Thursday, May 31, 2012

White Dawn

White Dawn by macgupta
White Dawn, a photo by macgupta on Flickr.

Lime Sublime

Lime Sublime by macgupta
Lime Sublime, a photo by macgupta on Flickr.

The lack of detail on the flower is simply the way the flower looks.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Name of the Rose


Garden - May 20, 2012, a set on Flickr.

Damaged by pests, weather and deer, this is the first flower in two years. I don't remember its name. Perhaps Tahitian Sunrise - but it doesn't match pictures of that on the web. Anyway, the rose itself vanished the next day, likely eaten by a deer. The plant remains, but is sickly and weak.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

J.P. Morgan's losses tied to environmental degradation

Connecting the dots from the New York Times:

On the excess of deer in the Northeast :

"By 1900, deforestation and unregulated hunting had reduced deer populations in the Eastern United States to tiny remnant clusters surviving in remote sanctuaries. But subsequent protective laws and aggressive habitat management allowed deer to bounce back.

To this day, wildlife managers slice intact forests into sunny woodlots that maximize the number of deer and the frequency of encounters between deer and hunters. Private landowners are encouraged by wildlife agencies to crisscross their forest acreage with tasty plantings of clover and wheat in support of what is now a burgeoning population of perhaps 50 million white-tailed deer — in some places as many as 75 deer per square mile. 

....Less appreciated, though, is how these millions of deer are quietly eating every palatable leaf within their reach across the eastern forests of North America. That’s very bad news for migratory birds." 


Deer act as hosts for the ticks that carry Lyme disease.   The ticks get their Lyme disease bacteria from small mammals like mice and chipmunks.  While reducing deer would help, some argue that  reducing mice is likely to be more effective.
This is best accomplished by allowing natural predators like weasels, coyotes, foxes, and owls to do the job. And the best way to increase their numbers is to maximize the size of forest patches.
Nevertheless, deer are the focus of this research:
A three-year experiment in tick control in two areas of Long Island — Shelter Island and western portions of Fire Island — has shown encouraging results.
Researchers from Cornell University installed and monitored dozens of “four-poster” feeding stations, which lure deer to a bin baited with corn and rigged with rollers soaked with a tick-killing pesticide, permethrin. When a deer rubs against the rollers, ticks die by the thousands. One station can treat all the deer in about 100 acres. 

New York had banned four-poster devices because feeding wild deer makes them congregate, which increases the risk of spreading chronic wasting disease. The Department of Environmental Conservation approved the experiment for these confined areas, where Lyme infections were severe and chronic wasting disease unknown.
How it all ties in to the losses at  J.P. Morgan:

Ever since JPMorgan Chase disclosed a multibillion-dollar trading loss this month, the central mystery has been how a bank known for its skill at risk management could err so badly.

As early as 2010, the senior banker who has been blamed for the debacle, Ina Drew, began to lose her grip on the bank’s chief investment office, according to current and former traders. She had guided the bank through some of the most rugged moments of the 2008 financial crisis, earning the trust of Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, in the process. 

But after contracting Lyme disease in 2010, she was frequently out of the office for a critical period, when her unit was making riskier bets, and her absences allowed long-simmering internal divisions and clashing egos to come to the fore, the traders said. 

The morning conference calls Ms. Drew had presided over devolved into shouting matches between her deputies in New York and London, the traders said. That discord in 2010 and 2011 contributed to the chief investment office’s losing trades in 2012, the current and former bankers said.

Religious Freedom in the USA!

A letter in the NYTimes:

Cherokee Tribal membership is based upon direct Cherokee ancestors who 1. agreed to accept a tribal roll number and 2. dissolve the Cherokee Nation through the Dawes Commission, 3. accept a small allotment of land, 4. give up their religion under the adjunct American Indian Religious Crimes Codes of 1883. Cherokee Nation members who refused to accept the dissolution, take their small allotment and give up their religion did not have roll numbers. Their ancestors are not eligible for tribal membership and after the Bush I, "American Indian Arts and Crafts act," (limited to enrolled members), must call themselves of "Cherokee Descent" and cannot market their work as Cherokee, nor are they eligible for traditional religious approval conferred by a new Cherokee Nation that is largely converted.

Elizabeth Warren was 23 when the American Congress finally gave American Indians the right to practice their religion (1978) You have no idea what that meant to us. I was 37 at the time. But all over America, native children were harassed for returning to their faith and their culture. They were told that there were no longer traditional Indian religions and dress and that real Indians didn't dress or worship that way anymore.
This is a shameful record, and not very different from the all-devouring Christianity in Europe and Islam elsewhere.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On the genetic roots of human disease

The New York Times carried this intriguing report by Nicholas Wade.

In brief: the theory used to be that some genetic mutations exert their bad effects only late in life, after people have had their children, and so were not eliminated by natural selection.  So some small set of common variants of genes were taken to underlie various diseases, and there was a hope that understanding the genes would lead to understanding the disease and from that to effective methods of treatment.

But improvements in genomics seems to show that very large numbers of rare genetic mutations are responsible for diseases.  So the situation is lots of genetic variants lead to common diseases, i.e., many different causes lead to similar effects.  The downside of this new understanding is that interpreting our genes is more difficult that we had hoped, that understanding and treating diseases influenced by genes is going to be hard.

At a meta level, it is interesting how such a simple and satisfying theory, and very respecting of Ockham's Razor,  is likely to be wrong.

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan: Disaster at Avery Fisher Hall

Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has a wonderful voice.  You wouldn't have known it if you attended the concert at the Lincoln Center in New York - the Avery Fisher Hall.   The Avery Fisher Hall is known to be somewhat mediocre, acoustically speaking, but that was not the problem.

Firstly, the artiste had a cold, as evidenced by the piles of tissues he periodically applied to his nose.  Maybe a sore throat too.    Also for some reason, he sang at a faster tempo than the compositions called for, like an express train. But even with that, when you could catch it, his voice was wonderful.  But you could get it only in bits and snatches, when the musical accompaniment was mostly silent and when his voice was low.

What was wrong?  Whomever the sound engineers were for this program were among the lousiest I have ever encountered (and that includes amateur nights at college).   They over-amplified the sound so that (and others said so independently) it sounded like baaraath music (the marriage procession in India, that blares out on cheap loudspeakers music so loud you may not know what song is being played.  The main purpose there is to simply have loud attention-gathering noise.)  On top of that, there was a heavy bass.  The railing in front of my seat, the seat armrests, even the seat cushion reverberated in that low frequency din.  In fact, all the instruments were overloud.  So you could hear the Ustad only in the quiet passages or if you held your hands tightly over your ears.

Since the organizers of these programs are interested in the money, not in the music, and because someone or the other is going to fill the seats for these scarce shows, I don't think this will be remedied unless the artist himself insists on it.  Or it has to be a matter of pride for the organizers. 

It so happens that just six days ago, I also attended a Kailash Kher concert (in Washington DC, the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University) and that was a great event.  No such issues, the electronics was, in a sense, imperceptible, as it should be.   The sound was natural except if you paused to think how it could fill such a large hall.

I think unless it is a small private performance, it doesn't matter how good the musician is if the technical support is mediocre.


Neither concert began on time.  The Kailash Kher concert began about twenty minutes late, the Rahat Fateh Ali Khan a bit over half-an-hour.   The Lincoln Center made a valiant attempt to get people in by the starting time of 8:30 PM.  Nothing doing,   The doors remained open, and people walked down the aisle, and up the aisle and down the aisle.   From my vantage point in a box, it was the familiar sight, that this was a social occasion, people shaking hands, hugging and kissing, as they moved down from the entrance to their seats.    And while I think desis manage to stick to their seats during movies, here there was a constant flow of people throughout the concert.   I saw the usher showing somebody their seats an hour and twelve minutes after the concert began.   I guess those guys were smart, they didn't really miss much.

The organizers of the Kher concert did apologize for starting late, and mentioned that they are trying to do better.  With the customers they have, it is hard to do.  I don't know if any of the organizers of the Rahat Fateh Ali Khan said anything, a lot of what they said I couldn't parse, their sound was terrible too.

If you love Indian music, then apart from such acoustic disasters as described above, you should be able to identify the greatest enemy of enjoying the show - the Indian socialite who considers attending such an event to be a fashion statement.  There is no statement of disgust that is adequate.


PS: The Bhangra Blowout that I attended in D.C., organized by students of G.W.U., and where the music is supposed to have a heavy beat, had better sound quality and clarity than the atrocity perpetrated on Rahat Fateh Ali Khan at the Lincoln Center.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Obama, the big spender?

As per this ThinkProgress article, when Obama took office, the federal annual spending was set to be 24.9% of GDP - and this was Bush's budget. For fiscal 2012, the federal annual spending is expected to be 23.4% of GDP.

In 2009, total federal tax revenue was projected to be 16.5% of GDP. In 2012, it is 15.8% of GDP.

Likewise, the 2009 deficit was projected to be 8.3% of GDP. For 2012, it is 7.6% of GDP.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies

Via Tazeen: Such a simple test, so many movies fail it!

If you can't view the youtube video, then here:

The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it {who have names}, (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

Garden - May 16, 2012


Garden - May 16, 2012, a set on Flickr.

Some hurried shots to record the state of the garden.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Education in India

V. sent me this:
An intriguing recent book by Columbia's Stuart Firestein (a neurologist, but he has been teaching a broader course on this subject) titled Ignorance: How it Drives Science posits that it is not the acquisition of facts, but the ability to know what one does not know that drives the spirit of inquiry, and thus makes any progress possible. Naturally, by this measure there will be absolutely no innovation coming out of India. And that in fact is the case by and large.

 from an article by Rajeev Srinivasan on India’s educational system at - 

Thursday, May 10, 2012



Sunday, May 06, 2012


Paul Krugman: "The problem with digital books is that you can always find what you are looking for but you need to go to a bookstore to find what you weren’t looking for."

Focus stacking


A first try at focus stacking, following Rajan Parrikar's suggestion. Used was the Canon 5d2 with the 100mm macro, the individual shots were obtained by varying the autofocus point among the 9 choices that Canon provides.  Each individual shot was at ISO 400, f/11, 1/30 seconds (which is what the available lighting dictated).  The slight breeze was a confounding factor.

This simple tutorial on youtube is what I followed.

However, I still have a lot to learn, because while the full sized stacked image was fine, when I tried to crop it or resize it, it developed annoying artifacts - little white lines running horizontally or vertically. I finally saved it as a full size jpeg, and then trimmed off the edges of the frame as a jpeg, resized, and here it is. In this size, the effect of focus stacking may not be clear, but in each of the individual shots only part of the beard of the iris was in focus, in the composite image, all of it is in focus.

Garden - May 5, 2012


Garden - May 5, 2012, a set on Flickr.

Some shots of the garden, with the 100mm f/2.8 macro (non-L).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Cockroaches are social animals!!!

Via CIP, the hidden-from-us social life of cockroaches.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Canon 5D3 watch

(May 1 - update)
(April 20 - update)
(April 4 - update)
(April 3 - update)
(March 29 - updates and update)
The last 17K+ photographs in my Lightroom library have this distribution of ISOs—more than 50% of them are at greater than ISO 800.


Therefore the Canon 5d3, which takes usable ISOs into the stratosphere is of interest to me. Not that I'm buying it any time soon, but since I'm watching it, might as well gather useful information here.