Thursday, November 27, 2014

In and Around Seattle

I was in Seattle for the IEEE NSS MIC earlier this month. Interestingly enough, there was no rainy welcome. The weather was in fact uncharacteristically dry and surprisingly chilly. A packed schedule left me with very little time for exploration. But I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the boisterous Pike Place Market and the city's popular landmark, the Space Needle. The conference banquet was held inside the Seattle Museum of Flight, which has a splendid collection of aircrafts from all eras, particularly those used during World Wars I and II. On the day after the conference ended, I went on a hike to the Big Four Ice Caves. A fairly nice trip overall, although I was chilled to my bones on more than one occasion. A brief photo tour follows starting with the splendid display of jumbo crabs at the Pike Place Market on my first day in the city and closing with one such succulent crustacean on my plate on my last day!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Brilliant Blunder?

This is a long-pending review of Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio, a bestseller I read last year. This book tells some interesting and lively snippets from the lives and work of five scientistic luminaries: Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein. It makes an enjoyable read albeit with one hiccup: it (in my opinion) is largely mistitled. These five scientists were all "brilliant" without a doubt. But I am not as sure about the "blunder" component. My review expresses my chagrin over this unifying element of "blunder." So, at the outset, I would like to clarify, while I have reservations about the title and the crux, this is a splendid compilation - extremely well-researched and beautifully written.


A Blissfully Swiss Adventure

Switzerland is a fascinating combination of natural beauty and German engineering. Vast and numerous water bodies and plenty of greenery along with the majestic Swiss Alps make way for the most picturesque and pristine landscapes. Add to that some cable cars, cogwheel trains, and funicular trams to access every summit, high or low, and you have more attractions to check off your list at every destination than you can possibly cover, however long your stay. So, in short, rain or shine, you can't be a bored tourist there. During my short Swiss trip, I camped in Zurich and backpacked around armed with a Swiss Pass, which allows unlimited use of almost all forms of transport, including most trains, buses, and boats.  

To Brittany and Beyond

Six years ago I blogged about my extraordinary experience at the IEEE EMBS summer school in Brittany, France. We were on a tiny tidal island in the Gulf of Morbihan near the Bay of Biscay. This summer I was back there again as a lecturer and had an even more fabulous experience. The school relocated to the Côte d'Armor area, and we were housed in a lovely abbey on a narrow peninsula jutting into the English Channel. Brittany (French: Bretagne, Breton: Breizh) has a rich history. A very long time ago our Neanderthal cousins would roam the place. More recently, it has been home to Celtic populations. The local vernacular Breton (nowadays largely overshadowed by French) is a close relative of Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, and other Celtic languages from Great Britain. Parts of Brittany were occupied or destroyed during WWII. In fact my visit to the city of Saint Malo strongly reminded me of a great novel I read based in the then German-occupied Guernsey, an island not far away from the Saint Malo coast. The trip to Saint Malo, which was part of the school program, was on the night of the Fête de la Musique, a music festival that takes place on summer solstice, the longest day of the year. After a fascinating tour of the historic walled part of the city, which was wiped out during WWII and rebuilt later, we roamed around listening to an assortment of local bands playing music from genres ranging from traditional Scottish or Breton to French or English rock. I tried some delectable kouign-amann from a local bakery and dined on buckwheat crepes (both the savory version, known as a galette in Brittany, and a sweet version with salted caramel), a Breton specialty. The school program also arranged for a trip to Dinan, a medieval town nearby, where we walked down to the beautiful banks of the river Rance. Like last time, school menu featured regular seafood extravaganzas with juicy langoustines, mussels, scallops, escargots (sea snails), oysters, and fish. Not a desserts person, I would still find it hard to resist the mouth-watering crumbles and cakes. I also got to taste the far, a flan-like traditional Breton dessert. The fresh fruit plucked from the abbey gardens were otherworldly. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

To Infinity and Beyond!

So I finally interrupt my blogging hiatus thanks to a book I read which happens to be one of a kind. The author of the book is (now retired) Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who as recently as May 2013, served as the Commander of the International Space Station (ISS). Cmdr Hadfield (Twitter: @Cmdr_Hadfield) is well known for his splendid efforts in using social media to give the world a closer look at space exploration and life in space. His book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, while written as a memoir where he talks about how he came to achieve his childhood dream of making it to space, can also be read as a self-help guide for motivated individuals from any profession. 


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat: A Must Read for Anyone Who... Err... Eats Food

Busy times at work for me. But I felt I had to write a quick post on this book which has paved the way back to the salad bar for me. No, I'm not weight-watching any more than I normally do. Like a lot of others, I'm just another person for whom cooking is drowned in an ocean of higher priority chores and who is often thankful to have access to food items that are precooked and ready to eat. But ever since I picked up Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, I can't seem to walk the grocery aisles the same way I used to. This book tells the story of how those aisles filled up with truckloads of sodas and cheese over the years. It's a brilliant exposé on how the processed food companies maximize their profits by manipulating our tastes buds. But most importantly, no matter how much of a health freak you thought you were, this book is likely to have something new to add to your dietary knowledge base — which you wish you had known all along.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Visit to Vancouver

I visited Vancouver last week for the SNMMI 2013 Annual Meeting. With the ocean, mountains, ample greenery, terrific weather, and scenic parks and bridges, the place is utterly breathtaking! The perfectly mouthwatering Asian food is an added bonus. So what if it rains a bit every now and then? This Bostonian can handle rain. :-) What I covered in the little time I had is by all means just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some snapshots of the city and a few of its landmarks.

The city and Burrard Inlet as viewed while walking along the Seawall, "a scenic 22 km path that lines Vancouver’s waterfront."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Critterama

As much as I loved my trip to Agra for the city's remarkable architecture, my camera was even more thrilled by the assortment of animal species you run into in and around the place. As it happens, the primary inhabitants of the majestic Mughal monuments today are simians and avians. On top of that, the city streets offer ample alternative modes of transport, including camel rides and horse carts. The rustic outskirts were even more spectacular with an occasional wild peacock or peahen strutting around in the plantations. So here's a brief post dedicated to the critters of Agra, those that my camera could capture as well as those that it couldn't.

A parrot couple perches on a red sandstone wall near Jodha Bai's palace in Fatehpur Sikri

Rediscovering Mughal Majesty

Last month an opportunity to revisit Agra came my way! Once the capital of the Mughal empire of India, Agra today is a tourist magnet owing to the many majestic Mughal monuments it houses. My trip was brief, and we only managed to cover the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, and Itimad-ud-Daulah (the first three happen to be UNESCO World Heritage Sites). The Taj Mahal, a marble mausoleum built by emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, stands on the banks of the Yamuna river. The Agra Fort, with its august red sandstone facade, intricate layout, and lavish interiors was built over many hundreds of years by multiple monarchs, both Mughal and non-Mughal. The tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, built by Nur Jahan, wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir, for her parents, like the Taj Mahal, also stands on the bank of the Yamuna. Fatehpur Sikri happens to be a city under the district of Agra. The Mughal capital shifted from the city of Agra to Fatehpur Sikri during the reign of Akbar, who built this city in honor of the Sufi saint Salim Chishti after the saint's blessing supposedly gave the king his first male heir! Without further ado, the photo tour commences:

The Taj Mahal, a white marble mausoleum built by emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, stands on the banks of the Yamuna river. Shah Jahan was quite a fan of white marble and it was brought all the way from the state of Rajasthan. Today the monument is struggling in the throes of pollution which has severely compromised the condition of the marble.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

When Icicles Hang by the Wall

The city is draped in freshly fallen snow! It looks so pristine that it's heartwarming (although in a frosty kind of a way). I couldn't resist roaming around for some quick captures (in time before the slush takes over). Frostbitten as my fingers are, it felt delightful! Now for a cup of hot chocolate, a fuzzy blanket, and a mystery novel. What say?

As the Bard of Avon wrote, "When icicles hang by the wall.."