Been some time since I saw a good article in The Economist, with equally good (mostly) comments. This was one.

Some quotes:

“Americans are more hostile toward the idea of an atheist presidential candidate than they are to a gay, adulterous, marijuana-using or utterly inexperienced candidate.”

“The problem is seldom with the religion but the religious”

In fact, eight states still officially ban atheists from holding public office.

Btw, this bit of JFK’s speech is must read. How I wish these words could be enshrined, strictly, in constitutions across the world (and speciall, my India).

…where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

Go read the article. And the comments. It’s worth your time, even if you are a jihadist / crusader / ram sene aspirant (tells you how the other side, we, feel).

This time, last year, I was on a plane half way to India to say good bye to grand dad. Hope the old bugger is doing well up there. Miss him loads :'(

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Aside  —  Posted: February 12, 2012 in Family, Heart, People
Tags: ,

<random thoughts to be ignored>

The world went from a decade when Muslims taking up arms got a largely sympathetic ear and a default label of ‘defenders against oppression‘ (Bosnia and Kosovo), to a decade (the noughties) when Muslims taking up arms got the most suspicious eye and default labels of ‘Islamic terrorists’ and ‘extremists‘.

Over a similar period, our neighbourhood troublemakers (NT) went from being a long-term strategic ally of the only super power, to having openly hostile relations with it. As a sign of their sinking economy, their GDP/capita went from ~50% higher than ours ($412 vs $218 in 19921) to 32% lower ($1007 vs $1476 in 2010).

Further, the neighbourhood troublemakers saw another democratic government thrown out and military take the reigns yet again, while J&K saw (relatively) successful elections and successive elected governments (something the NT rarely sees)

To repeat, over a period of 2 decades the instigators behind the troubles in J&K went from being a position of geo-political and economic strength to (almost) international outcasts and economic ruin. Their agents in the valley went from being considered defenders against oppression to extremist terrorists, and got banned in most countries. The valley itself went from being a violent hotspot ruled by a governor appointed by the centre running a largely police state, to a mostly peaceful state with successive democratic governments.

Seems to me like it was a damn good time2 to force negotiations, from a position of strength, and get the other parties to agree to a long term solution. Unfortunately, nothing like that seems to be happening, unless we agree that the best case long term solution for India is to freeze the conflict while establishing LoC as the accepted border.

Should the government have tried for more than just peace in the valley and banning of the terrorist groups? I believe yes. I would have sure liked to have them push for more, quite a bit more. I’m sure a lot of people, on both sides of the border would’ve like them to have tried a bit more and settled the issue once and for all.

Could the government have gotten more? Unlikely. The same factors that have lead the our NT from a position of strength in early 90s to such a position of weakness today – core interests of the populace, the military, and (lately) the Islamists running counter to each other – are also the ones that prevent them from behaving like rational, reliable actors on a negotiating table. That India’s domestic opposition, while largely agreeing on outline of final desired outcome, is always looking to score political points on any moves towards settlement, rather than support the government in achieving it, acts as a dampener as well.

Should this be considered a failing of the Indian government – for not pushing through a long term resolution – or a success – for pacifying a violent valley and establishing a stable democratic process in the state as a prelude to complete peace and normalcy? I can’t answer that, I don’t have all the facts and the insider info. May be the super powers of hindsight will help us answer this question in a decade or few.

</random thoughts to be ignored>

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Sometimes the simplest of questions can easily stump you.

On the trip to Tanzania, Rags asked me some simple questions about my camera specs – its resolution and maximum zoom – that I had no clue of.

The main reason was the different way in which specs are quoted for SLR and point-and-shoot cameras. She had a point and shoot which had been sold to her with specs of 15x optical zoom and 8.1 megapixel resolution. I, on the other hand, had never thought about my SLR in those terms. All I knew was that my camera sensor had good enough resolution for all my reasonable needs, and that the zoom depended on lens I used.

I gave her that answer (mixed in some gibberish to make it sound intelligent and accurate) and left it at that. Still, somewhere in my mind the two questions had been ringing around. Bored of work this evening and looking to take a non-TV break, I went Googling  for the answers, and this is what I found.

First, the easy one. My camera, Nikon D90, has a resolution of 12.3 megapixel.

Now the more complicated bit – the zoom. Most point-and-shoot cameras mention their zoom as a multiple, say 10x. Most consumers take this to mean magnification, i.e. a 10x zoom camera will make an object look 10 times bigger than with naked eye on full zoom. The reality is a bit different.

A 10x zoom, in reality, only means that the maximum focal length of a P&S camera is 10 times the minimum focal length, and thus an object will look 10 times bigger at maximum zoom than at minimum zoom. Useful, but not quite the same. The P&S marketers publish this number because it is a fixed number for each P&S camera depending on the range of lens fixed to it.

SLRs, on the other hand, have changeable lenses, so there is no single number for any particular camera. However, each SLR lens has a X-times zoom factor based on its minimum and maximum focal length.

E.g., for my 3 lenses, it’d be:

  • 50mm prime: 1x
  • 18-105mm: 5.83x
  • 70-300mm: 4.28x

Another way to look at it for SLRs is the potential zoom across lenses. So, with my 3 lenses, I have an available range of 18-300mm giving a zoom of 16.67x compared to 15x on Rags’ P&S  (35mm eqvt: 31-465mm, crop eqvt: 19-290mm).

Of course, changing lenses on an SLR is nowhere as easy as flicking the zoom button in a P&S, so the numbers are not strictly comparable.

Finally, if that 10x zoom is not really ‘zoom‘, what is? It’s called magnification, and it depends not only the maximum focal length of the lens being used, but also on the sensor size. Hence, even within SLRs using the same lens it can differ depending on whether the SLR uses 35mm film, a full frame sensor or a regular crop sensor.

On a 35mm film or a full frame SLR, a 50mm lens is believed to give approx the same image as human eye. So, a 50mm prime lens, like the one I have would have a magnification of 1x. But that’s on a full frame SLR. Most of the SLRs amateurs use, including my D90, have a crop sensor. That is because the image on them is a cropped version of what a similar lens and setup would give on a full frame SLR. The crop ratio is fixed – 1:1.6. So, the same 50mm lens that is 1x on a 35mm film or full frame SLR, has a magnification of 1.6x on my D90. Now that I’ve explained the basics, here are the maximum magnification percentages for my various lenses and Rags’ P&S:

  • 50mm prime: ~1.6x
  • 18-105mm : ~3.3x
  • 70-300mm: ~9.6x
  • Rags’ P&S (19-290mm): ~9.3x

There. I learned a lot today researching these small bits of info and hope the few who read this do too.

If you want better, deeper, explanations, these are the best two resources I found: Photography-On-The-Net Forum (specially Jim_T’s post on 5th Apr 2004) and the Luminous Landscape Tutorial.

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The year drew to a close while I was away in Tanzania, so never got to write my spurt of year end posts. This, is a short fill-in for one.

My total mileage in

  • 2010 : 2,266 km / 1,409 miles
  • 2011 : 3,796 km / 2,359 miles

Here’s the month-wise breakup:

Jan’11, I was just feeling the cold and being lazy. Nov & Dec were lost to walking / hiking in preparation for for the Kilimanjaro ascent (which I successfully did on 23rd Dec).

I missed my target of 3000 miles for the year by a big margin, still 2011 was a much better year for my cycling. Some of the milestones of 2011 were:

Finally, coming to plans for 2012. They are simple (and slightly repetitive):

  • 4000 miles of riding, all inclusive
  • More sportives (attended only 2 this year)
  • Lower HR
  • Better Climbing (subjective, but important)
  • 100 50mile+ rides
  • LEJOG / Cycling vacation in Lake District
  • Cycling vacation on the continent, preferably closer to the Alps
  • Get Rags a road bike and get her riding hills with me :)

Doable? Check back at end of year.

P.S.: While I missed my year end target of 3000 miles, Steve hit it with ease, finishing the year at 3,024 miles. His target, though, was 4000 miles. Good luck to him for 2012.

This is a guest post by Dan, whom I met on twitter long before I moved to the UK.

A brief intro: He’s a Stoke City supporter (my interest in the gritty, little club is all his doing), a #properfootball fan (smaller the club, the better), a fellow test cricket lover (or #propercricket as he calls it – dying breed we are), lives in the Midlands and works in PR (I think).

About 6 months after I moved to London (more than an year ago), he wrote this blog post for me. I lost it immediately in the crazy mess that my inbox is, only to discover it recently while cleaning the Inbox in search of that elusive Inbox Zero goal I’d set myself for the week.

Now, that I’ve rediscovered it, and enjoyed a re-reading myself, here it is for all 2 of my readers to read and share. Starting with his intro:

Okay.

A list of what I know about India. I eagerly await what you know about England : )

If facts about India were grains of sand on a beach my knowledge is the content of a sock after a brief stroll.


What I know about India

  • You woudn’t want to be an Indian cricketer if you lost to Pakistan.
  • Your parents would be planning your marriage before you were ten if you were a girl, a work colleague called Anuji assured me.
  • You wouldn’t want to be a regular commuter on the Bombay trains.
  • You wouldn’t want to say ‘Bombay’ to someone who knows it as Mumbai.
  • You wouldn’t want to be a blockage remover on the Bombay sewers. Or the Mumbai ones.
  • You wouldn’t want to be an Indian soldier at the cross border ceremony with a sore foot (there’s lots of stamping of feet.)
  • You’d love to see the sunset over the Gangees.
  • You’d love to drink Darjeeling in Darjeeling.
  • You’d love to while away a long train journey on an engine made in Stockton in 1883.
  • You’d be appaled at the squalor.
  • You wouldn’t want to sell goods on a train without a licence.
  • You wouldn’t want to hear my mate Steve from Northumberland tell the beggars to ‘go away’ when he was in India travelling.
  • You’d be in last chance saloon if you were an English lady who failed to find a husband on a visit to pre-war India.
  • You wouldn’t want to mess with a Sikh.
  • You wouldn’t want to mess with a Sikh with a gun.
  • You wouldn’t want to mess with a Sikh with or without a gun over the issue of the Amritsar massacre.
  • You’d be part of a vast army if you were an Indian graduate.
  • You’d have to learn about Eastenders if you worked in a calls centre.
  • You could have met my Grandpa who had just marched 1,000 miles through Burma if you were in Imphal in 1941.
  • You’d have to have been a crushing snob and mildly racist to have been an Englishman serving as a policeman in pre-Independence India.
  • You’d like to think if you were a Lancashire cotton worker you would have understood why Ghandi span his own cotton.
  • You’d be amazed at how few Stoke City fans there really are.
  • You’d be amazed at how good the curry is.
  • You’d be amazed that when English wicketkeeper toured India he took a suitcase of baked beans with him.
  • You’d love ‘Staying On’ by Paul Scott if you love India-set love stories about a couple who stayed on after Independence.
  • You’d love Bollywood films if you like dancing and singing.
  • You’d hate it if you didn’t like heat.
  • You’d love it if you’d like to experience different things.
  • You’d be amazed at the religions that stem from there.
  • You’d be amazed at how many soldiers fought for Britain in the last two wars.
  • You’d be ashamed if you knew how many were treated.
  • You wonder if it is the weather that brings Indians to Britain.
  • You’d be amazed at how Indians love cricket.
  • You’d be amazed at where Indians play cricket.
  • You’d wonder at how little I know of India and that what I know has come from books, cinema and telly.
  • And you’d not be surprised the furthest East I’ve been in the world is Switzerland.

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Strange Dream

Posted: December 5, 2011 in Dreams, Heart, People, Places
Tags: , , , ,

Robert Scoble appeared in my dream last night. And it wasn’t even in London.

I had moved back to my home town and he visited me there to interview about my new start-up!

Sadly, since the start-up was (is) in stealth mode, I couldn’t share any specifics with him. He wasn’t happy that he came so far only to get stonewalled but didn’t let that spoil the mood.

Later, I took him on a walk (or was it a photo-walk) around town and things got weirder. The town now had small hills and dense vegetation (IRL it is a dust bowl right in middle of north India’s wide open, super flat plains). We were walking on a trail through the undergrowth with the dark, hilly forest on one side and high back walls of some houses on the other, joking about the fauna of that region. Then we saw the gate to the park, which was now a national reserve. That’s when it went dark.

I can relate bits of it to real life. Been missing my home town, reading too much of Scobleizer, working towards a startup, and was walking through some dense growth yesterday on the Beverly brook walk, including a section that was suspiciously similar to section we walked in the dream.

Would’ve really liked to know how my start-up turned out :)

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P.S.: As a contrast, the dream night before was of two girls in love with me (and me loving them back) who turned out to be twins. They were both what I’d grown up dreaming ‘my girl’ to be – tall, dark, intelligent, athletic, confident-yet-not-abrasive, smile-a-lot kinds. Don’t know how that one ended either :(