Monday, September 27, 2021

September, End of.

Warning: Filler post begins. Well, when one is writing a post per month, one does not have the liberty to tag a post as a filler willy-nilly. But that should not stop one from getting disappointed as the end of this month approaches and only a quarter of the current year remains. Also the time left for Nokia to update (my) Nokia 9 PureView phone to Android 11! So whether or not this post qualifies as a filler, we will talk about a lot of stuff in this post, like Anime, Shers, Movies, TV shows, etc. Wait a minute, that amounts to just two things, once everything is said and read…

Anyway, to the first topic of Shers (I recently learnt that ‘Ashaar’ (अशार) is the plural of ‘Sher’ (शेर) but old habits die hard as old dogs say!). The following two are from poet Mukesh Aalam:

अब तो सारा आलम ही इन रंगों से शर्मिंदा है
मज़हब वालों ने कुछ ऐसे फर्क बताए रंगों के

Ab to saara aalam hi in rangon se sharminda hai
Mazahab waalon ne kuch aise fark bataae rangon ke

Even the whole world is now ashamed of these colours
The sectarians told such differences among the colours

मुझे दुनिया के तानों पर कभी गुस्सा नहीं आता
नदी की तह में जाके सारे पत्थर बैठ जाते हैं

Mujhe duniya ke taanon par kabhi gussa nahin aata
Nadi ki tah mein jaake saare patthar baith jaate hain

I do not ever get angry over the world’s taunts
All the stones sink to lie down on the riverbed

–मुकेश आलम (Mukesh Aalam)

The first sher is a Maqta (of course) where the word ‘aalam’ (आलम) is the poet’s (pen)name but also means the world, as required by the Sher to make sense. The second sher got chosen not just because it was easy to translate but also because it tries to weave an allegory in the two sentences. It also involves the world but with another word ‘duniya’ (दुनिया). I struggle to come up with synonyms for ‘world’ in English. Words like ‘cosmos’, ‘universe’ sound too grand whereas ‘Earth’ sounds too flat (no pun intended; in fact, there is none). The full video, where the above snippets of Ghazals can be heard (in the poet’s own voice), follows:

That leads us smoothly to the second topic of Audio-Visual stimulations. I finished watching an anime series on Netflix a few weeks ago. I had started it sometime last year, no idea why. It was/is titled “The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.”. It is a ‘slice of life’ anime about a psychic high-school boy who is an all-powerful being able to use psychokinesis, teleportation, and whatever the author needs him to be able to do to get out of situations where his powers are in the danger of being discovered by people around him. Only his parents (Spoiler alert: and his elder brother {more Spoilers: and a couple of his classmates [Spoilers keep coming: and later his grandparents too!]}) know about his powers. The whole series is then about him trying to hide his powers from the whole ‘world’ and seem as an average high-school guy (literally average, as in class rank, athletic abilities, etc.) but he keeps getting into situations from which he ‘always’ escapes unscathed. Enough with the summary of the series, let me tell you about what it feels like watching Saiki K. It is fast-paced with incessant gags/jokes after jokes/gags, full of parody of other manga/anime, parody of its own source manga, consistent breaking of the fourth wall, hilarious and ridiculous pandemonium. The only other manga/anime (among the ones I know) that surpasses such chaotic pandemonium is ‘Nichijou’ and I’m not even going to try to describe it (because I didn’t dare to describe it here either). But both are highly recommended viewing/reading for this year, or any other time for that matter.

Moving on to the touchy topic of Movies and Movie theaters. The latter are starting to open up again after a long break (who knows why?) and we are starting to cautiously venture out in search of ‘good’ movies to watch and eat bucket loads of popcorn. (The latter is just my superpartner but since the bucket gets loaded, I also dig in more often than I’d like to admit.) The first movie we watched (since the re-opening this year) was “The Green Knight” because we went to watch “Reminiscence”. The second movie we watched was, of course, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” because why not! The third movie we watched was “Free Guy” because we haven’t watched “Deadpool”. The fourth movie we will watch will be “No Time to Die” because it features Nokia phones… WOW! The fifth movie we will watch will be “Eternals” because I haven’t read any Marvel comics. The sixth movie we will watch will be “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” because I have no idea what this movie is about but the name sounds familiar! The seventh movie we will watch will be “Spiderman: No Way Home” because it has Spiderman and Dr. Strange. The eighth movie we will watch will be obviously “The Matrix Resurrections” because what’s the point of life, otherwise!

Showing some restraint, I now move on to the funny topic of (British) TV Shows. The new seasons of “QI”, “The Russell Howard Hour”, etc. have started this year. A new show “The Complaints Department” is also funny enough to be watched weekly. Another ‘new’ show “Late Night Mash” is also watch-worthy. The hardest quiz show “Only Connect” is also running along. VCM is particularly funny this series. But DM has yet to feature, maybe he will in some of the upcoming episodes. “HIGNFY”, “Question Team” and the year-end specials are (of course) the things to look forward to in these stressful times. Especially, Charlie Brooker’s take on 2021. What the hell is he doing these days, anyway? I get that he’s now a father of a few kids but then one 2 hours show at the end of each year along with Barry Shitpeas and Philomena Cunk isn’t asking too much, is it? Sadly, one person who is being/will be missed in the panel shows is Sean Lock. He died recently (16 August) of lung cancer and “tears can’t be written down, Jimmy”.

August was the month when the world lost two great (particle) physicists: T. Maskawa and S. Weinberg. Not to be outdone, September turned itself to be the month which took away two more physicists: Antony Hewish, an astronomer and Thanu Padmanabhan, a cosmologist. To be frank, I did not know about Prof. Hewish due to massive ignorance on my part. He had discovered pulsars and was awarded a Nobel Prize for that. Prof. Padmanabhan’s research contributions include cosmological structure formation, dark energy, and quantum gravity. I have a slightly more close connection with him (though, I never met him personally) as I started learning about path integrals from one of his many books when I was an undergrad at IITKGP. It is a bit strange that my initial exposure to General Relativity was from a particle physicist and to Quantum Field Theory from a cosmologist!

Last Words

Monday, August 9, 2021

What a Weekend That Was!

Sad. It was a sad weekend. The weekend following 23rd July, 2021. When two eminent theoretical high energy physicists, both of them Nobel laureates, Toshihide Maskawa and Steven Weinberg, transitioned from being alive to whatever that other dumb state is. Sir would have probably said, उनीहरू धान रोप्न गए (they went to plant rice). I never inquired about or understood the origin of that phrase. I just like(d) it for the simplicity and obscurity of the reference!

I ‘knew’ Dr. Maskawa because of the CKM (Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa) matrix or quark mixing matrix. In modern theoretical physics, it is quite hard to put a face on an equation. (Remember, E=(γ)mc² reminds one of Einstein. Or, (γ·∂+m)ψ=0 reminds one of Dirac. Well, maybe that’s not a good example. How about Noether’s theorem or Yang-Mills theory or Higgs boson or Feynman diagrams or BRST formalism or BCFW recursion relations? I guess you get the idea that it is hard to associate faces to equations in physics… Forget faces, even names sometimes get lost in the zoo of acronyms!) It is indeed sad that, for me, CKM matrix got a face at this inopportune time.

I ‘know’ Dr. Weinberg because of… a lot of things. In fact, I decided to become a theoretical physicist because I read his book “Dreams of a Final Theory” in the library of my high school. (Why do I have to be specific about the library? For that, read OMUs 4 in this post.) Then, during my undergraduate days, I got to know more of him by studying the electroweak theory (including Weinberg angle or weak mixing angle), by studying his book on Gravitation & Cosmology (including his paper on cosmological bound on neutrino masses), by reading his book “The First Three Minutes” (though I doubt I finished this one). I got to know much later that the name “Standard Model” in particle physics was coined by him. I had even applied to UT Austin for graduate studies, just for the possibility that I could, maybe, in due course of time, be able to meet him in person. But that application didn’t go as planned and I went to SBU. I was still confident that being in the same country possibly means the probability of meeting him is still nonzero. The day of 23rd July, 2021 has made that probability zero.

I have ‘followed’ Dr. Weinberg’s advice on graduate research since my undergraduate days, i.e., since I read his Nature article Four golden lessons. In fact, I always keep a summary of the 4 lessons in my shirt pocket (along with other quotes from famous people like Einstein, Feynman, Salam, WS, PvN, etc.). As I started thinking about graduating and becoming a postdoc, I came across another article of his with similar flavour: To the postdocs. What a coincidence of timely guidance!

Sadly, as I inch towards finishing my third postdoc and no clear view of a faculty job on the horizon, I wonder if I have missed a third article by him titled, “Are you ready to teach?” or “Research without academia?” or ⋯. Well, I guess 23rd July has made me stop that search.

I will end this post with an article, which on any other day, I would not have. (Read it till the end, though!)

Finding one’s place in physics

Monday, July 19, 2021

Colours and Biases

It has been a while since I talked about photography ‘properly’ on this blog. What with all the pandemics going around, who has the time to photograph anything pleasant. Apparently one of my brothers (cousins) does. He sent me a few photos of roses and a hibiscus with dew drops all over the place. They were nice photos but I felt that the colour profile of every photo could have been tweaked a little to make the colours pop. That would have given them a vivid, vibrant feel. (Some may have even benefitted from soft focus giving them a dreamy feel.) Let me demonstrate what I mean. Here’s the original photo of a hibiscus:

Dull Hibiscus

The colours in this photo feel flat and muted. The pink petals are borderline white and the background elements – dark green leaves and red flowers – appear to take over one’s attention that is intended for the main subject. To remedy some of these aspects, I fiddled with the colour warmth, saturation, highlights & shadows and contrast to get the following photo:

Vivid Hibiscus

I was happy with how the pink and orange hues now attract one’s attention more than the background elements, which somehow don’t stand out too much. As is often said, it takes one flower to know another, so I asked my 3.3 years old daughter Sakura what does she think of the two photos. She at once picked the original photo! I was shocked, to say the least.

After regaining my composure, I asked her why did she pick the original? She said there are green leaves in the original. That is true, but that’s what I felt were the distracting elements. That's why I had ‘turned’ them to ‘black’ so as to be the background and the flower could be the center of attention (which every kid expects to be)! Not convinced by that reason alone, I asked her again for anything else she thinks is better in the original. She said there are red flowers [pointing at the background]. Again that is true and I felt those were distracting too (like bold and gold colours on kids’ garments)! I was really confused now and asked her explicitly about the flower in the center, “Don’t you like the pink and orange colours popping out in the center [pointing at the photo with my edits]?”. She answered, “No, the orange & pink are better here [pointing at the original one]!”. And made a face/gesture/pose that seemed to articulate: “Enough with the dumb questions; I like what I like! Why should there be any reasons for that?” and ran off to play Tic-Tac-Toe with her mother. [She figured out the 2-pronged tactic to win by her 5th game against Her! “Was that a fluke or deliberate?” is a question for another post.]

Let me also share some of the photos I clicked in recent times from the verandah. As you might expect, they have been tweaked a little to make the colours pop as I prefer:

Bulbul

Green Coconuts

Gulmohar petal

Gulmohar flower

Pinwheel

Thus, it seems beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. What felt distracting elements to me in a photo were the precise reasons for my daughter to like that photo. Or maybe, to her young eyes, the colours are already vibrant and don’t need help popping out unlike my decades old eyes that do. It sounds weird but that’s how life is: unpredictable at the best of times, and unprecedented pandemonium at the worst of times. With that thought, I leave you with

The Hibiscus Photographer

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin – the story of a lifetime – has now been more or less completely told in live-action format. The final two movies were released this year, with one of them available on Netflix (at least in India). In total, there are 5 movies:

  1. Rurouni Kenshin (Aug 2012)
  2. RK: The Final (Apr 2021)
Rurouni Kenshin

I watched the fourth movie last week on Netflix. This part of the story has not been animated yet and I was pleasantly surprised that it has been made into a motion picture. If you have not read the manga, this movie may seem a little too fast-paced, with barely any logic or reason to some of the behaviours of the characters. But if you have read the manga, you will realize that this movie IS too fast-paced to give justice to all the motivations and reasons behind the character’s ‘well-justified’ behaviours. It also does away with certain twists and reveals in the original manga to simplify the story and fit ‘everything’ into 2 hours. And quite disappointingly, the words “Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki” are not heard even once.

Of course, it is no one’s fault in particular. It just so happens that this medium is ill-suited to tell the original story with all the twists and turns, motives and reasons, grief and gloom, love and hatred, trust and betrayal, crime and atonement, “Thank you, Sorry and Goodbye”s.

Watch RK: The Final

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Random May…

With the world spiralling to its annihilation faster than ever, my motivation to write a monthly blogpost has understandably spiralled out of the physical realm. Not just my motivation, many other things have also spiralled out of my control. So for this month, let me do a filler post and just write down from memory what all has happened since the last post.

I have reinvested my investment along with the gains for the near future. Though, this time, in an open-ended scheme. Not that you need to know that, but let’s give the previous post a proper ending. Right?

Speaking of investments, my body’s investments in fats, cholesterols, triglycerides, etc. have reaped great gains but not so much for Vitamin D. It turns out this investment portfolio does not bode well in the long run, specifically, it puts me in pre-diabetic category. I have changed my lifestyle drastically by exercising a bit more and eating cakes a bit less. That should be enough to squeeze out a few more years I guess. We’ll see…

I have a paper out on arXiv with a collaborator from IMSc (let’s call him AM). Well, two versions already in less than two weeks because we didn’t realize in the first version that the symmetry transformations were really Z₃ and not Z₂. But it doesn’t change any of the main results so all is well and good.

SQED₂ Discriminant Locus

I have bought a domain name just to get a feel of what it’s like. It’s ‘jkmsmkj.fyi’ and click here to go there. And I can reveal that it’s over-rated. Well, because I’m not a business so doesn’t really make much sense but whatever.

We watched the award-winning animated movie Soul. And it was so ul-species-ist. Do animals not have soul? The whole movie showed just one cat soul, like an untouchable going up that escalator thingy all alone! And how the hell did that cat come back alive at the end of the movie? I realize not everyone / everything needs to have a purpose as Richard Aoyade says in the movie but then I recognized Richard Aoyade’s voice near 70 minutes’ mark when he says “So Basic!” like no one else can. With the correct combination of sarcasm, condescension, disgust and deadpan delivery. Liked the music too. 3 Stars. And ∞ stars to RA for brightening my soul with that single phrase.

As is well-known, W. Bengal is not under lockdown or curfew but just a lot of very specific restrictions, like no public movement between 9PM and 5AM and no educational institutions, offices, etc. to open for the next two weeks. Almost no restrictions if you deal with essential items like groceries, sweets, jewellery, sarees and medicines. Enjoy these restrictive times till they last. They might not be around long till the next pandemic, which may appear next after 5 years on 06-02-26! Who knows? [Hey, this is my prediction for the next world-changing catastrophe… please someone bring this post to limelight appropriately if and when required.]

Amid the pandemic, W. Bengal was hit by a cyclonic storm named Yaas. As in, Yaas, thaa’s whaa’s we do. It caused havoc near the Odisha-Bengal coastline. The inland areas were spared this time. The most damage it did near our house was stripping the nearby Gulmohar tree of most of its flowers because not even the road in front of our house was water-logged at any time during the two-days of the storm.

Wars! Battles! Skirmishes! Yes, the fun topic of China-Taiwan, Israel-Palestine, Delhi-W. Bengal, Black-White, Allopathy-Ayurpathy, Idiocy-Stupidity, Intelligence-Learnedness, Real-Fake. As I see it, the resolution to all this is the annihilation of the whole world. Not just those two things, but everything. A clean slate or plate. The story of Noah’s ark without Noah or his Ark. The story of Dr. Stone without Senku or Dr. Xeno. That would be so soul fulfilling. I can’t wait enough for it to happen. Maybe leave Japan out of all this, just because Eiichiro Oda can complete One Piece, even though I won’t get to see that finale. But then, this is not the time to be selfish.

I believe that’s all that happened in the past month or so. I am reminded of one of Dr. Indori’s Sher about giving advice:

शराब पी के बड़े तजरबे हुए हैं हमें
शरीफ़ लोगों को हम मशवरा नहीं देंगे

Sharaab pi ke bade tajarbe hue hain hamein
Shareef logon ko ham mashwara nahin denge

Having wine has granted me great experiences
I won’t be giving any gentlemen my suggestions

राहत इंदौरी (Rahat Indori)

Let us end this post with a grand recital of Ghazals by

Shakeel Azmi

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Investments

This post is going to have a drastically different theme than my other posts. I am going to talk about investing money in India. This, however, does not constitute any financial advice. This post just captures and contrasts the result of a particular investment I made a few years ago to another one I could have made instead at that time. So let us begin from the beginning.

After my postdoc at NTU ended in early 2017, I returned to India along with all the money I saved up there. (I think ~NT$100 still remain in the bank at NTU as some interest was deposited after I had left. “Why didn’t I close the account there?”, you ask. That’s because the lady cashier helping me with my international transfers and clearing up my account convinced me that if I decided to come back, I could start using this bank account again, so no need to close it!). These savings were transferred to my NRI account in India. Having returned to India, that account could no longer be called NRI (Non-Resident Indian) so I had to visit the branch and convert the NRI account to an ordinary RI account. The branch manager was fine with doing that but also suggested that I invest most of those savings in a Mutual Fund (MF) instead of just keeping them in the Savings Account (SA) or putting them in a Fixed Deposit (FD). I was thinking of parking these savings in FD, but this guy again convinced me to try this one particular MF, which he said was very much like a FD with almost no risk, and would have some tax benefits. He showed me this demo table to highlight what he was talking about (click on the image to see a high-res version):

FD vs MF Demo

The main takeaway was that after taking into account the Indian taxation rules, the MF would have an effective annualized return rate of 7.1% vs. FD’s 4.9%, even if FD enjoyed 7% pre-tax interest rate. Let’s keep this difference of 2.2% in mind.

One problem was as much as he wanted to say “no risk”, the mutual funds are of course “subject to market risks” so there is no guarantee of returns like there is with deposits in SA or FDs. Another problem was that the money I would put in this MF would be locked for 3.25 years! At that time, I did not yet have an offer from SINP and locking away funds seemed risky from this perspective too. But then everything has an associated risk and the history of these particular types of MF hadn’t seen anything bad so I planned to give it a go. Obviously not with ₹10 Lakhs (≡₹1 Million) as written in the demo table but with half of it.

Yet another problem was that I wouldn’t be “someone in highest tax slab” so was not sure how much tax benefit I would actually get. As has turned out over the years, I am “someone in almost-tax-exempt tax slab” so I think I will get almost no tax benefit from this as can be seen in the table below made in the same format as the demo table (click for hi-res image):

FD vs MF for me

The takeaway from the table above is that the tax benefit for me is none whatsoever. The capital gain after 3.25 years from my ₹500K investment is barely ₹97K, which means the actual effective annualized return rate for this MF is 6.2% compared to 7.1% of the demo table. Adding to that disappointment, an FD created for the same duration with actual pre-tax interest rate of 6.5% would have an effective rate of 7.7% compared to 4.9% of the demo table. So the difference is –1.5% (i.e., an FD would have been a better choice for me than this MF) compared to 2.2% of the demo table.

Anyway, just for completeness sake, let us also look at the actual outcome for someone in the highest tax slab (again, click for hi-res image; the footnotes are same as in the previous table):

FD vs MF for Highest Tax Slab

In this scenario, the tax benefit is there but it is just (6.2-5.4)% = 0.8% compared to 2.2% shown in the demo table.

So the final takeaway is “Mutual Funds are subject to market risks and / or pandemics”. That’s all for this post. I will leave you with

SBI FD Interest Rates

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Holi, Moli, Roli

These are quite important words around this time of the year. The first one refers to the upcoming festival (of colour) ‘Holi’, in which people (mostly sisters) tie threads called ‘Moli’ around other people’s (mostly brothers) wrists, and mix red powder called ‘Roli’ with water to put on foreheads as Tika. There is also the other aspect of Holi, where people play with water and colours and colours mixed in water by drenching and colouring each other. Others, who like to keep some distance from this mess, fill bucket full of balloons with water (with or without colours) and throw them at others from a safe distance. As a kid, I was such a person. The routine for a couple of years during this time of the year was: wake up early in the morning, prepare a bucket full of water balloons (NO colour), go to the roof, and hurl them towards ‘victims’ walking on the roads. As one may expect, the devil is in the details. The (un)fortunate detail was that this house we lived in was basically surrounded by a vast field on three sides, and a wasteland on the other. The roads from where repercussions could not find a way to our house were beyond this field, and those were, obviously, the preferred roads for a kid to assault hapless pedestrians. But it also meant, that kid could never make the balloons land on the roads beyond the field, let alone on pedestrians! So that was how the ‘fun’ aspect of Holi played out for a few years in my childhood. And I feel my daughter is missing out on that. But that’s how it is… times change, people change, circumstances change, priorities change.

Colour Full

Even then, what does not change is the abundance of sweets on this occasion. And I am making sure that at least she experiences that aspect as much or as well as I did. In addition, she did get a toy water-pistol shaped like a dog from her mother yesterday. And she was enjoying it today morning with her menagerie of plastic toy animals. Now, I had never played with a water pistol in my childhood so I thought of joining her too. And she gladly handed the toy-pistol to me. Just after three presses of the trigger by me, the dog-shaped-water-pistol stopped working. If you foreshadowed this happening two sentences ago, kudos to you. I had not and neither had my daughter. But she turned out to be more mature in this situation than I expected. She did ask something like “did it break?”, but without using the pronoun ‘you’. And when I confirmed her assertion, she did not make a big deal out of it. She asked me to fill up the toy with a little more water and continued to tinker with it for a while as I briskly made a beeline towards the kitchen for my breakfast. I am assuming her mother will take care of the rest, or has already taken care of it. Who knows? The moral of the story: times may change, people may change, circumstances may change, priorities may change; but grown-ups screwing up childhoods never changes. And on that note,

Happy Holi

Thursday, February 18, 2021

What Futures Holds?

Those of you who think there’s some problem with grammar above, hold your horses. I am talking about “Nature Futures” column for sci-fi / futuristic stories and I can treat it as a singular noun, it being a name of the column.

So yeah, it’s been a while since I have talked about Futures on this blog. Not because the stories aren’t great any more, but because it is a weekly routine and after a while, one starts taking things for granted. So what’s special about February 2021, you ask!

Well, the latest story. Not really the story itself, but the author’s inspiration behind it or as Nature calls it “The Story Behind the Story”. That small snippet at the end of the story ends with the sentence “After all, people want what they want, and rarely what they need.”. We have all heard some variant of this sentence at least once in our lifetime but this sentence after this particular story struck some chord and here we are typing (or in your case, reading) away a blog post.

It led me to think what I want. My train of thoughts didn’t seem to go very far and my brain didn’t register a valid response. Then I thought about what I need. Again my train of thoughts resisted motion and my brain frowned at the dullness / stillness / motionlessness of it all. Maybe at the end of the day, I want a need. Or, is it the other way around, I need a want. Or there could be a third option and I may have transcended above all and मोक्ष (moksha) should be ready to receive me sometime soon.

Till then, I leave you with my second (ya, only second in a decade!) full-fledged 360° polorama.

2nd 360° Polorama

First 360° Polorama

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Millenary of Chapters

As 2021 rolled in, the world of manga witnessed the 1000th chapter of One Piece. Yes, you read that right: One Thousandth chapter. More than 2 decades worth of weekly anticipation, sprinkled with nearly 3 years worth of (un)expected breaks by Eiichiro Oda, rolled into 1 giant realization that I’m not going to see the end of this marvellous adventure. But as people say, it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. To those people, I say, hell with you all. Because you have definitely not read One Piece.

Combined cover pages of Chapters 999 & 1000

Anyway, that is all I want to say for now. I feel this year will be big for mangas and we will talk about them once in a while as this year unfurls. Wishing Totan Kobako a complete recovery from his hand injuries and hoping this year finally sees his new work published. Meanwhile, I hope those lovely people who translated Sketchbook in the past can restart scanlating the rest of the chapters covering the last 3½ volumes. If everything else fails, I guess Google Lens will have to do the job. It’s a sad state of the world considering that “real-time translation” was one of the most promising features of the “MS Translator” app on Windows Phone 8/Mobile 10, which never materialized for Japanese in the 5 or so years of the OS’s existence/relevance.

Viz.com