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.."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The One World Schoolhouse

As most of us will agree, "there is an enormous difference between bemoaning the state of education and actually doing something about it." As founder of the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization aimed at "changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere," educator Sal Khan indubitably falls into the sparsely populated actually-doing-something category! In his book The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, he shares with us the story of how he embarked upon his remarkable expedition to transform education and his vision for the schoolhouse of tomorrow.
Book review: The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Regenesis

Thrilling as it may sound to be able to rewrite our genomes — to harness synthetic biology to transcend challenges such as disease and scarcity of food that have plagued the human race since eternity and venture into the realms of transhumanism, we are still a long way from that goal. And yet, much of this is more than just a pipe dream. In the book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, Harvard professor George Church, a pioneer in the field, and co-author Ed Regis take us on a wonderful tour of synthetic biology giving us a clearer picture of what we have achieved and can achieve in the near or distant future and the tools and ideas that can take us there. 

Book review: Regenesis by George Church and Ed Regis

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Day at the Aquarium

Last Saturday I went to the New England Aquarium, which happens to be one of my favorite neighborhood destinations. Needless to say, I was armed with my new super-zoom buddy. Turns out the aquarium's central attraction, the Giant Ocean Tank, is "undergoing a top-to-bottom, 21st-century transformation." The penguins and several of their buddies are therefore on vacation. I am certainly looking forward to the makeover, which is due for completion in summer 2013! Meanwhile here are some shots, mostly of swimmers in near-perpetual motion, set in the aquarium's low-light ambience. I'm still getting used to the camera's manual mode (and clearly remain far from my target). So please do bear with me!
"Jelly jam": Japanese sea nettles on a collision course

Monday, September 10, 2012

So Long, and Thanks for All the Inner Fish

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, a book with a rather curious title, traces our shared lineage with other organisms going back hundreds of years to our aquatic ancestors. Its author, Neil Shubin was a member of the team that, in 2006, discovered the purported missing link between fish and terrestrial tetrapods. It was a paleontological breakthrough that fascinated academics and laypersons alike (links: Nature and New York Times). The 375 million year old fossilized animal, excavated from the Canadian Arctic exposures, was named Tiktaalik, or "large freshwater fish" in the Inuktitut language. As a paleontologist who taught anatomy to university students, Shubin has written this wonderful book which helps us understand anatomy in light of our shared descent with the rest of the animal kingdom. According to him:
The best road maps to human bodies lie in the bodies of other animals. The simplest way to teach students the nerves in the human head is to show them the state of affairs in sharks. The easiest road map to their limbs lies in fish. Reptiles are a real help with the structure of the brain. The reason is that the bodies of these creatures are often simpler versions of ours. 
Book review: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin