Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Santa Cause

Just came across this ad spot for Greenpeace by an Australian ad agency. Maybe its poetic justice that I'm posting this on the day Al Gore and the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri accept the Nobel Peace prize for their contribution to the awareness on global warming.
It does look like Santa's gonna have to buy a boat sometime soon.

Of carnivorous pitchers and viscoelastic deaths

"A Viscoelastic Deadly Fluid in Carnivorous Pitcher Plants"
Its not everyday that a scientific paper with a title like this gets published. But it did, recently on PLoS one, the free access online journal that publishes papers from all disciplines. So, what did Laurence Gaume (biologist) and Yoel Forterre (physicist), the French authors have to say?
That carnivorous pitcher plants can get pretty sticky when it comes to getting their one course meal. Okay that doesn't sound too impressive huh? Take this..
All this time we spent in school reading about pitcher plants (genus Nepenthes) capturing insects by their slippery surfaces and the enzymes inside that digest the insect slowly... well thats not all. As it turns out this digestive enzyme in some species (Nepenthes rafflesiana pictured above being the star of the show here) has viscoelastic properties.
Apparently, thats the physicist and his fluid dynamics jargon speaking here.
In plain speak, the fluid has both viscous and elastic properties that ensure that once the unfortunate bug gets anywhere in contact with the fluid its in a real sticky mess. The viscoelastic filaments in this fluid act like a quicksand, coating the insect and making it immobile the more it struggles. Meanwhile it gets digested. What a way to die!
Oh yeah, thats not all. This miracle fluid works perfectly well even after 90 percent dilution with water. Which figures, because these tropical plants see a lot of rain and if a little bit of water ruined your whole prey capture mechanism, then grandpa Natural Selection would have kicked you out long back.
Messieurs Gaume and Forterre apparently had a ball doing this study using insect bioassays (read killed different insects with the same stuff to see if they die the same), high speed photography and rheological analysis (thats the physics geek there again!).

The Indian pitcher plant Nepenthes khasiana (left)

Public Library of Science journals
Carnivorous plants on Wikipedia

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Music ... and a fragmented society

Its been a long time since my last post, so its time to catch up on things a bit.
I've been saving this from the time I read this article by David Brooks in the New York Times a few weeks ago, itching to get it onto my blog. Brooks talks about the 'classic rock' bands of yore like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2, Springsteen and the E-street band and how they drew upon a range of musical influences (blues, country, soul) and created a unique new music. Unique enough to still be able to fill up stadiums till they burst, anywhere in the world. And this is more than a quarter of a century since this stuff really took off. Their mind boggling success went hand in hand with this 'musical integration'.
And then, he says it all started to change (go wrong?). What started was a fragmentation of music into different styles, moving away from this 'integration' and very soon you had as many genres as you had communities and ethnic identities even. And at the rate its moving, we may soon have a music genre for all of us.
Okay fine.. nothing special huh? But what really opens your eyes and forces you to think deeper are these last lines and the simple truth in it :

We live in an age in which the technological and commercial momentum drives fragmentation. It’s going to be necessary to set up countervailing forces — institutions that span social, class and ethnic lines.
Music used to do this. Not so much anymore.

The Segmented Society - David Brooks (op-ed in the NYT)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Memoriam

For what is it to die,
But to stand in the sun and melt into the wind?
-Kahlil Gibran, from "The Prophet"

There are so many things that I thought I'd write about.. the story of a little girl named Pushpanjali in a small remote village, just one among the seven siblings, who had never been outside that village, never seen the 'world', who never hurt anyone and who had the smile of an angel. No, this isn't about sentiment. Although I was one of the last people to see her alive when I drove her and her parents to the district hospital, this isn't about my feelings.
Its about the way she died.
Of jaundice.
Here we are, at the cutting edge of medical science trying to find cures to all those scourges of planet earth - malaria, AIDS, cancer and we have children in our villages dying of jaundice!! Is there any reason why we should not hang our heads down in shame?
Perhaps, the most disturbing thing for me was the stoicism with which her parents took her death. It came from an acceptance of the fact that such things have always happened and will continue to do so. There are six more children in the family. And
that is why there are six more and not just one more. Deficiencies in basic healthcare, high child mortality rates, low nutritive food, no hospitals in remote places, no doctors in the hospitals, no medicines... ahh.. issues issues issues... maybe someday we'll start doing the right things..
maybe the next Pushpanjali will live..

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Double the devil!!

666 666
There you are .. twice the devils number !!
I refrain from posting cricket related stuff on my blog. There are plenty of cricket 'ex-perts' on the web and I have no intention of being one of them.
But this is special.. its a world record.. six sixes in an over from Yuvraj Singh. Not the first one to do it, but definitely the first one to do it to a fast bowler (the unfortunate unfortunate Stuart Broad)!!! Oh yeah, he also happened to hit the fastest fifty ever in any form of cricket ..
Just sit back and enjoy this power hitting..
Match report

Three steps to conservation

Finally some one is talking some sense about conservation. And can you believe that it took a political scientist to do that!! Indiana University political scientist Elinor Ostrom has proposed a new three tier framework for conservation that is flexible and adaptable to the needs and demands of the various idiosyncratic factors affecting the conservation plan in that particular region of the world.
The first 'tier' of the framework looks at the broad variables of resource systems, resource units, the governance system and the resource users. In each successive 'tier', these are progressively analysed with greater and greater detail. Policy makers are encouraged

"...first to examine the behaviors of resource users, then establish
incentives for resource users to aid a conservation strategy or,
at least, not interfere with it."

The 'flexibility' of the framework even claims to acc
ommodate non-political changes that may come with economic development and environmental change.

No doubt this will have its critics too, the primary criticism may come in the form of the time-line Ostrom is talking about to even get this framework started - 15 to 20 years. Many conservationists would argue that we cant afford the luxury of such long drawn plans when everything around us is collapsing.
Point taken! But, look at it this way.. atleast someone is thinking differently and if we can manage to pull this off, it may just work in many places in the world where the western blueprint of conservation is imposed on traditional people and their lifestyles, leading to a virtual lottery where the odds are heavily against success.
I can already see tremendous advantages of adopting such a thorough approach for north-east India where tradition, culture and tribal practices do not take too kindly to the inflexible laws that apply to all of India. Recognising and studying the problems in detail is the first step to solving them.

Original report .......Why Conservation Efforts Often Fail

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunset at Sesaipura

Sunset Sesaipura
Originally uploaded by dawgmatix
Sunsets have always been my favourite form of landscape photography. Had plenty of experience clicking sunsets in Mizoram where they are just too awesome and the light is just fantastic. Central Indian sunsets arent that easy, but the flat terrain gives a panoramic view. Have been experimenting with different exposures recently and this is what came out of a recent trip to Sesaipura, a small town at the edge of the Kuno wildlife sanctuary.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Did predation drive speciation??

Some exciting new findings (of really really old stuff.. we're talking 550 million years here!) by scientists at Virginia Tech seem to suggest that a fantastic increase in species diversity at one point of our geological past (480 m.y.a in the Phanerozoic fossil record) might have been triggered by increasingly efficient predators. Now, before you get ideas about some furry, sabre toothed cats or ravenous T'rex's.. these predators are none of them. They appear to be marine organisms capable of drilling holes into shells with more efficient and stronger claws and jaws. Evidence collected from fossil victims of all this clawing and jawing coincide with the spurt in their species numbers. Now this could mean three things according to them - the predation drove speciation, diversity forced the predators to evolving newer and more efficient ways to crack them, or all this is due to some other factor which we still dont know. A previous study by Mark Wilson and Paul Taylor do seem to point towards the first criteria. Its going to be interesting to see the follow-up studies!

here's the link to the original article..Predation Linked To Evolution, Study Suggests

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pride and joy

On 29th August, 2007 something really strange happened. India won a football tournament. They beat Syria, ranked much higher than them in the FIFA rankings comprehensively and won the Nehru cup. For a change, there were people cheering them on too, and what a show they put up! I was one of the lucky few to be in the stadium.
Although the stands were almost entirely full of young people from the north east, this has to be a first time in the history of Indian football when people were waiting outside the gates, waiting to get in for a football match in a place other than Goa, Kerala or West Bengal.
This is not the end. The way these guys were playing, something is changing.. and its for the better. I managed to take a shot of Bhaichung, Steven Dias and Sunil Chhetri with the tricolour doing the victory lap. Gives me goosebumps whenever I look at this picture. Football rules!!!!

for more read:
Times of India report
Good story in The Telegraph on the evolution of the current team

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Whats with the dry leaves??

Kind of like our experiences arent they??.. scattered pieces of yesterday lying all around and yet feeding our subconscious.
Experiences - sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and everything in between is always a learning experience. In fact the bitter ones are probably the ones which teach us the most.. essential to nurturing our understanding of the universe as we allow our survival skills for this world to grow... all through our life.
But arent all these small nuggets of packaged-knowledge-with-a-price also like yesterdays leaves? Fallen and decomposing.. but contributing to the richness and fertility of the soil that nurtures those same trees from where the leaves came?
Well I'm just gonna toss around a few of my dry leaves and see if they make any sense. The ones which dont... aah well, there's always a matchstick to start a nice campfire with them !!