Google Update

A new flavour of : Science versus Religion

From Nature:

A growing number of neuroscientists are calling for the cancellation of a special lecture to be given by the Dalai Lama in November. The Buddhist leader is due to speak at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) in Washington DC, but a petition against the talk has already gathered some 50 signatures.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since he fled Chinese troops in Tibet in 1959. Over the past decade he has increasingly encouraged researchers, sometimes at gatherings at his home, to study whether Tibetan Buddhist meditation can reshape the brain and increase mental well-being (see Nature 432, 670; 2004). It was during one of these meetings that he was asked by a member of the society's executive committee, to give an inaugural lecture on 'the study of empathy and compassion, and how meditation affects brain activity'.

Some of the critics believe that the Dalai Lama's lecture should be ruled out because of his status as a political and religious figure. "One of the reasons for inviting him is that he has views on controlling negative emotions, which is a legitimate area for neuroscience research in the future," says Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But "the SfN needs to distance itself as much as it can from the Dalai Lama and his beliefs", adds Desimone, who opposes the lecture but has not yet signed the petition.

I plan to attend the SFN meet in Washington in November where the Dalai Lama (access required) will speak. Meditation has clear benefits and merits scientific study. Religion, despite its numerous flaws has many great things to offer. Science is not blindly against Religion. Science seeks the best available provided there are grounds for that belief, other than faith. Meditation needs to be verified quantitatively and scientifically.
From the subtext, it is pretty clear that there is some political motivation since most of the protestors are researchers from China or, of Chinese origin and there are only 50 signatories.

Advisors or ... ?

For obvious reasons this comic has not made it to our lab wall; however, since this first appeared in an NIH's Analyst magazine, I guess it is okay. But who will bell the cat?

Mark Knopfler at Meadowbrook Music Festival

Not Deep Purple, not Bob Dylan, not Santana, not Eric Clapton, not U2, it was the sultan of swing - Mark Knopfler, who I’ve always waited for. It would be any ragpicker’s dream to see his guitar hero in the flesh. It was one concert I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world. I have not spent money for nothing to own every record (almost) that he has ever made. Dear brothers in arms, here is the low-down on the concert.

Avoiding Telegraph Road which tends to get crowed in the evening, we (Romeo and Juliet) simply took I-75 to the Meadowbrook Music Festival. It is similar to, but smaller than the DTE Music Theatre and it lacks the fancy big screens making it, as some say, an ‘intimate atmosphere’. From my not-so-intimate lawn seat, the stage was so far away from me that I did not have the greatest view of the action. Some come to listen, others like me come to watch, especially to watch every expression and I love to see the fingers move. This time we were well-prepared with blankets and food. At end of the Santana concert, it was very late; we were starving; found nothing except a Denny’s, and Denny’s after midnight is one weird place. Why worry?

Coming back to the concert, the opening act was Bap (as in baap re baap, no really!) Kennedy (from Belfast), who was more of a filler than an opening act. It was Kennedy on the acoustic and another dude from Nashville - who was the real redeemer of the duo - on the lead/slide guitar. All the songs were in honour of, or honouring Elvis Presley or Hank Williams. I mean this guy is not playing Elvis or Hank but singing about/to them. You know that sort of inspiration leads to. He was ‘Less than OK’. Can’t they get anyone better to open for Mark Knopfler? In fact, anyone from the Ann Arbor Summer Festival could have done better.

Then just boom, like that Mark Knopfler burst onto the stage playing Why Aye Men. The reasons to like Mark Knopfler are numerous. Firstly, he is a finger-picking electric guitar god. Secondly, for all the guitar gods in the pantheon his songwriting is far above most, simply fantastic to say the least. His songwriting is inspired by Bob Dylan (who isn’t?) - Dylanesque, but not the same sort of impenetrable lyrics. Ever wondered as you want your MTV, how many rock-stars have mocked themselves and the music industry? He is a former English teacher and it shows. Some sample themes: Bonaparte’s failed Russia campaign, Imelda Marcos, Nazi war criminals, roadside Romeos, the Mason-Dixon line, the fast-food industry, Turkish guest-workers in Germany, gay strippers, the fading of jazz, the futility of war, and yes, great love songs too! You can’t like MK right away, I didn’t. He grows on you so subtly. You begin to hum through the hooks and refrains and then one day find yourself a fan. Thirdly, he has to be enjoyed slowly, and in bits; however, today I was prepared to relax that restriction and hear everything that the great red-bandana-populariser had to offer.

I managed to sneak in the ‘where-you-jangle-your-jewelry’ seats and take some close-up movies before I was kicked out by security. MK, I must add is among the few artists who don’t mind people taking movies or bootlegs as long as they don’t make commercial use of it. Good lad! Anyway I am still stuck with this camera with poor zoom and poor nighttime results!

I enjoyed him play on the Strat and the Gibson Les Paul, but the greatest moment of the day was to see him play the slide on the silver-steel National guitar on Donegan’s Gone. I can still see the vision of one floating on the cover of Brothers in Arms. The most amusing moment of day was his drinking tea in the middle of the set. Before that he introduced all the members of his band in his Scottish accent and while introducing, Matt Rollins he said, ‘He forgot his accordion on the bus, but I brought it in’. Can’t see how they could have played Done With Bonaparte without the accordion.

He played a lot of songs (see the Set List below) and yet I felt he did not play this song or that. This was supposed to be the Shangri-La tour, but he did not play much from that album except for two songs. I really wished he had played more from Shangri-La and I was dying to hear The Trawlerman’s Song. I also wished to hear Down to the Waterline and Why Worry?, I assumed that he would do the bonus track Do America from Sailing to Philadelphia.

Earlier in the day on radio he said that his current line-up plays Dire Straits better than the Straits and after hearing the band today I admit that this is true and offer the videos as proof. Today I become one of those fans overcome with silliness to buy the ridiculously priced T-shirts. Baloney again, but that's worship, that’s what it is!

Videos:(will uploaded by Monday)
Walk of Life
Money For Nothing

Mark Knopfler
Venue: Meadowbrook Music Festival
Date: July 8th, 2005

Set List

1) Why Aye Men

2) The Walk of Life

3) What It Is

4) Sailing to Philadelphia

5) Romeo and Juliet

6) Sultans of Swing

7) Done With Bonaparte

8) Song for Sonny Liston

9) Rudiger

10) Donegan’s Gone

11) Boom like That

12) Speedway At Nazareth

13) Telegraph Road

14) Brothers in Arms

15) Money for Nothing

16) So Far Away from Me

On Comics

If you are vaguely interested in comics then I recommend this book.

New White Flight

In the 60s, White America fled to the suburbs. Bruce Ashby seems to be a representative of a new kind of White Flight!

Who's Monsoon is it Anyway?

From Nature (Since access might be required, I am posting the most relevant paragraphs):

' ... Researchers at a climate institute in India have voiced concern at what they see as attempts by the government to curb their scientific freedom after they were forced to remove monsoon forecasts from their website. The government says the move is necessary to stop the public being confused by conflicting forecasts. But the scientists are worried that it could prevent researchers in a range of disciplines from communicating their results..." '

'... but the monsoon season is notoriously difficult to predict. The country's official forecast comes from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), which is run by the government's Department of Science and Technology (DST). To predict rainfall, it uses a model based on statistics of past monsoons.

In 2002, scientists at the Center for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation (C-MMACS) in Bangalore began forecasting the monsoon with a more sophisticated global-climate model that uses equations to describe Earth's atmosphere. Since 2003, the researchers have been posting the results on their website, and the Indian media have been reporting them.

Last month, the DST issued a directive prohibiting the publication of any results that differ from its official forecast unless they have been peer-reviewed and cleared by the head of the researchers' agency. The DST will in future collect and disseminate monsoon data produced by research institutes to avoid confusion, DST secretary Valangiman Ramamurthi told Nature. "Monsoon forecasting is sensitive for the Indian economy," he says. "It's not a free-for-all..." '

What a shame that C-MMACS, among the few scientific research institutions, is having to deal with problems like 'territory' than concentrate on scientific problems. It appears that scientists who work from the government mutate into complete different creatures once given power. It can be justified if the DST was right - though I disagree, since there should be always freedom of expression? - but they were WRONG!

'In its 27 June bulletin, the IMD admitted that June's rainfall was 35% below average — as forecast by the C-MMACS. Heavy rains in Gujarat over the following three days reduced the deficit to 20%, and the IMD insists that this will be made up in the next few months to make 2005 a normal year, as it predicted. '

A longer comment appeared in the Hindu a few weeks ago. It highlights the larger question at the end: Can Indian scientific institutions ever get along with each other?

MIT Blog Survey

Dear Raed, the Iraqi blogger made headlines, wrote a book and is now a celebrity of some sorts. All he did was blog! Blogs have exposed major scandals; they ask critical questions which the conventional media does not ask or bothers writing about.(I am sure Chomsky is pleased to see the effect that blogs are having.) Now people are writing books on blogs and on topics as specific as what it can do for your business, organization, etc. In short, a concept that did not exist 5 years ago is becoming more and more 'de-nerdified'; the rest of the world has begun to notice. So much, that a scientific study on it is being done by MIT.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

I took the survey and was very impressed with its format. It has a neat method of grabbing stuff from your blog and asking questions adaptively depending on the context. It grabs links from your main page and sidebar; a good idea since these links are more indicative of the general nature of your blog than some specific post.

Lots of really good questions:
'How long do you think you are going to continue this blog?', ' How many blogs do you update?',
and the real scorcher: 'How much time do you spend on blogging?' .

The survey revealed stuff that I don't really analyze.
'What % of the content of your posts are: personal, informative, or on a specific topic ?' I write on whatever topic I feel like, but now I will be more conscious.

I think that their survey questions on blogger location, nationality or ethnicity were not well-phrased. The way the questions were asked, I have been counted as an Asian-American blogger than as an Indian student in America. Also, the last part of the survey would redundant for any Indian, since any Indian would know all kinds of people as 'acquaintances' (by the loose definition provided). Such surveys that tap into a global audience need to be given more thought. It is quite obvious that the cultural, social assumptions were America-centric. There was a similar problem with the Harvard morality survey on which I wrote about here. However, I felt that the creators of this survey would be more prepared for global nature of blogging and the differences in countries and cultures. Answers to these questions should have changed the nature of the subsequent questions.
Also, it did not directly ask if blogging has really changed your life in some ways apart from the time spent on it! Like:
Has it changed your outlook?
Have you changed/reinforced your opinions on certain issues after reading about what someone wrote?
Have you learned something informative as a result of your blogging?

I learn a lot about myself and about things that I blog about because I have to think, research, think and then write about stuff. I felt that the survey overly emphasized how we meet different people and what means we choose to do it - SMS, email, blogs. That, is just an epiphenomenon - meeting different ideas and thoughts is what blogging is really about. Blogging has created these micro-communities that orders the vastness of the internet into some sort of shape that makes sense; or, maybe not since it gives 100 more interesting/distracting links to follow!

Mr. Smooth

If you can't afford the best tickets, then invest some money in a pair of binoculars.
Learning this the hard way, I was better prepared for this summer's concerts. The first of the season was Carlos Santana..

As is the case with most concerts that I go to, 80% of the people were in their 40s or 50s; a strong hint that my music tastes are quite anachronistic! I made a mental note of trying a little harder to listen to some music from 'my' generation. I just finished reading Kill Your Idols, a cynical relook at classic rockers and famous rock albums. The new generation of rock critics (DeRogatis, Marc Weingarten, Robert Christgau) tear the albums to shreds and I am filled with new-found scepticism. Among the more poignant passages talked about, " ... overpriced tickets and hordes of fans too eager to buy the dumb merchandise, when not even half original band was touring..." Wowing not to succumb to such nostalgic seductions, I entered the DTE Music theatre; it's a great venue - parking is free! You climb up Pineknob hill and the steep grassy slope looks down on lawn, then the expensive seats (Lennon might have called it 'where the rich jangle their jewelry') and then onto the semicircular stage.
I almost did not make it to the concert. I meticulously followed the directions and thanks to DTE's website's twisted sense of direction I found myself at The Palace of Auburn Hills (home of the Pistons and a music venue when they are not playing) and there there were 3 cars in the parking lot. Clearly, not the right place! After readjusting my coordinates and managing to get off the right exit on I-75, I found myself stuck in a massive traffic-jam. For the first time, I was happy to get stuck in a traffic-jam! At least, I was on the right road and there were a bunch of folks who were going to be late for the 7pm concert.

Los Lonely Boys
The first opening act was Salvatore Santana (Carlos's son), who studies at UCLA and apparently tours with his Dad during the summertime. Thanks to the traffic-jam I was late by about 15 mins and by the time I managed to trample over the people sleeping on the blankets and settled down at a 'good' vantage point - Salvatore Santana was waving goodbye. So I missed the opportunity to trash the son with a famous dad!
The real opening act was the Grammy winning Los Lonely Boys and they were great! Actually, only Michael Garza the lead guitarist is great, the bassist and the drummer are all right. Their songwriting skills are really poor and the rhymes are very contrived and often silly. For example from Nobody Else this gem:
I can't stand to be alone
Cause I go crazy when you're gone
You're the one that makes me whole
I pray you've known this all along
Everything is gonna be alright
I wanna be with you all of my life

Hilarious! What the did not have in terms of songwriting, they made up in terms of the music and there were some really fantastic jams. They also did the usual monkey tricks of jumping around with the guitars, playing behind their necks, etc., which are not that hard but who's complaining? There are striking parallels between Santana (the band) and the Los Lonely Boys. Both are(were) bands of brothers/relatives, Hispanic groups, have songs with Spanish lyrics and have a shrieking high-pitched lead guitarist. For a moment, you would believe that the LLB's lead was Carlos Santana; still Michael Garza is not Santana, not yet. They have some cool riffs and I loved this particular riff (see the video below).

Dressed in colors that suit a Jamaican reggae star more than an aging rocker from Woodstock, the hatted Santana made his way on the stage around 9pm with his trademark high-pitched guitar with Jingo. The crowd erupted - what a start!

Midway into his set, when quite a few people were already drunk with the copious amount of alcohol, Santana gave his anti-Bush spiel. There were cheers from the crowd, but rest of America does not seem to be listening to him, or the Dixie Chicks, or Bono. Then he started talking about '... achieving real Peace in our lifetime, if we only believe...' and other platidinous remarks. Then the screen had some 3D doves fly out and images of people around the world. Age has finally caught up with Carlos Santana. He was not making much sense; however other fans seem to agree with whatever crap he was talking and gave him a standing ovation at the end the 10 min speech; but Santana does believe in what he says, 50c from each ticket are donated to his Milagro foundation, but I would suggest: 'Santana do, but don't talk!'.
Thankfully, there were no more speeches from him for the rest of the night and the music in the second half was fantastic. I must give Santana credit for letting other musicians share the limelight, especially the musicians who seem to have the two-bit parts. We all know that he does not sing much these days and was mostly in the dark, while the light shone on other musicians during the songs. For the first time, I saw the 'unknowns' being given the stage for more than the 'one solo' in the concert. The brass section was really good and so was the drummer. Then he called the Los Lonely Boys to play on a song alond with - the biggest surprise of the day - Ray Manzarek of the Doors. The all came up onstage to play on two songs. It was great to hear Ray's tinkly keyboard on Evil Ways (see video below). Fantastic!
On the whole, this concert was better than the Eric Clapton concert because Santana did not treat this as just another stop on the tour. EC came, played and left - Santana connected and did three songs for the encore.
Hope some of you can catch him on tour this summer. Next up is: Mark Knopfler on the 8th.

Video clips
*Los Lonely Boys - Great solo by Michael Garza.
*Evil Ways - Carlos Santana and guest appearance by the legendary Ray Manzarek.

Santana Concert Set List
DETROIT, MI 6/25/05