Tuesday, January 2, 2018

For Love Of Good Books!

1 January, 2018: I wake up to hear the sad news that Eloor Libraries is shutting down. It takes some time for me to even grasp, as I look at the facebook post, by another member who loves the library, announcing the same.

Eloor: that’s the name that reverberated the walls of my house since when I was five. I remember going there every weekend, and picking up four or five books to read through the week. In fact, that is the library that has literally seen me grow into the reader I am today. From the Beetle series, that had just a big picture and a single small line in a page, to binge reading series like the Famous Five, Amelia Jane, Sleepover Girls, Harry Potter and Hardy boys, to slowly exploring H G Wells, Robert Stevenson, and the children’s classics section that held Heidi, Hans Brinker and Silver Skates, Treasure Island, Little Women and the likes, to obsessing over the racks of Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, Robin Cook and Dan Brown, to graduating into Shaw, Dickens, Tolkien and the likes, as I grew older, the library has given me everything!

I remember jotting down random title names from various sources, and pestering the staff to find those odd titles for me. I remember how those Uncles who work there, smiled knowingly everytime I walked into the library. I remember how they bought copies of the books that the library didn’t have, because I wanted to read those titles. I remember when my brother picked up the same books that I had earlier read, and the member number 6066 was still scrawled in the vertical, rectangular white piece of due date paper, since when I had issued it some years back. Being very regular visitors, my brother and I used to call them up everytime there was a new book realeased by some author, and we wanted it to be issued to us first, or kept without being issued until we could come and collect it. To suddenly realize that the library is not going to exist anymore is painstakingly sad.

Eloor was a library that did justice to its tagline: for love of good books. The staff in the library, who we grew to call Uncles, have been there as long as I can remember, and were one of the best librarians, helping us with books and suggestions.

But, like my dad says, the shutting down of Eloor was not something unforceable. One major reason was that the number of people signing up and subscribing to lending libraries was coming down. Only people like us, who were members since a long time knew the real value of this place. I just didn’t expect to wake up one random day and hear that it’s going to be gone.

Anyway, I wrote this post in an urge as I really had to do something to hold on to the memories of this favourite place in Chennai that made my childhood wonderful.

I’ll miss reading books on the 6066 member ID, that gave me 14 days to finish the books I had issued and then come back for more.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


I look for her, but where is she?
Is she hiding away behind that tree?
But the oak can't hide her
'cause she's too bright!
And yet, I can't find her
'cause she's too shy!

Last time she came, she was early gone
Before I could play her my little song
But I can't stop thinking
'cause she's in my every cell!
And yet, I can't hear her
Well, I couldn't tell!

You might be musing: oh, what's her name?
I call her idea, and she's insane
But when she comes back,
she'll help me through!
Hey, hey Idea! I'm calling
Out to you!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Laws Of Perspective

I started with the course “Lectures On Digital Photography” by Marc Levoy. It is a course which was initially taught at Stanford for interested on-campus students, and then later at Google. Now all the lectures are available for free completely on Google Sites. Here’s the link: https://sites.google.com/site/marclevoylectures/home

Fifteen minutes into the first lecture, Mr. Levoy talks about one of the most important aspects of art- perspective. He talks about perspective in a scientific way. When you capture an image of a real object on a plane, be it as a painting, one of the earliest forms, or photography, which came much later, there are two important ways to look at it.

One was the natural perspective that Euclid explained in his book on Optics. The natural perspective discusses the distance between the eye and the object, and the angle the object subtends to the eye.

In simple terms, the natural perspective tells you that farther objects subtend smaller angles.

The other type is the linear perspective theory created by Filippo Brunelleschi. This basically tells you that closer objects are projected larger on a picture plane.

Using this simple mathematics as derived from the linear perspective theory, the approximate size of the projection on the plane as compared to the actual size of the object can be determined. In the above picture: y is the height of the projection; h is the height of the object; x is the distance of object from the eye; and z is the distance of the picture plane from the eye.

This was of key importance in the paintings during the Renaissance as the painters attempted to produce or showcase depth on a plane sheet. It was generally concluded from the linear perspective theory that all objects away from the painter must converge at a farther point.

So, how is this theory of perspective related to photography? Well, for photographers to choose an optimum focal length for the right aperture that would capture the scene, the way they envision, it is necessary that they have a general sense of perspective. It is not required, and is not possible, to do mathematics every time. But it is necessary to rather have a ‘feel’ of the right perspective that they need for a particular shot.

There is a tamil saying that translates into “Your hand doesn’t measure what your eye doesn’t”, which sums up the the topic of discussion here: perspective.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why I Did Not Get My Hogwarts Letter

I was introduced to Harry Potter, and the world of wizards and witches when I was eleven. And ever since, I’ve always waited for my Hogwarts letter- most sincerely. People thought it was fiction but I knew it wasn’t just that. What I couldn’t understand though was why I did not receive my Hogwarts letter. Years on end, I peeped through the window to see if I could spot an owl approaching. No such luck.

Now, while pursuing B. Sc., LL. B., I finally found a convincingly probable answer to the question that has bothered me for the last seven years.

This semester we have a paper on Microbiology and Genetics. And, today, while winding up with the genetics topic, our professor showed us a video by National Human Genome Research Institute- Harry Potter and the Genetics of Wizarding.

Thanks to Prof. Eric P. Spana's wonderful lecture in the video, I got the reason why I might not be the one. For all those out there wondering why you didn’t get your letter- read this! The answer lies in your genes.

Let’s look at it this way: Why does Hermione Granger get the letter, but not us?
Brief answer: de novo mutations.

Let ‘W’ be the representation for the alleles of wizards/witches.
Let ‘M’ be the representation for the alleles of muggles.

To be a wizard/witch you need to have at least one dominant wizard allele ‘W’ or a recessive allele ‘ww’ gene.
Mr. and Mrs. Granger both are pure muggles(non-magical human beings).
So, both Mr. and Mrs. Granger are homozygous muggles: MM

Doing the Mendelian Cross:

Parents:                                   MM            x            MM
                                             (muggle)                  (muggle)
Gametes:                                  M                             M

Filial Generation 1:                                  MM            -----------------------> (Muggle)

So, how did Hermione, who was supposed to have only MM genes and be a muggle, become a witch?

De novo mutations are mutations that occur in an egg or sperm cell before fertilization or immediately after fertilization. ‘De novo’ literally means ‘of new’ in latin and refers to such new mutations.

De novo mutations may explain genetic disorders in which an affected child has a mutation in every cell in the body but the parents do not, and there is no family history of the disorder. Thus, even if there is no hereditary history whatsoever of magic use, the offspring can have a mutated gene affecting it, thus making the progeny magical.

Hence, Hermione got through to Hogwarts thanks to the mutation in her genes. This answers why she’s a mudblood.

But why not us too?

Well, de novo mutations occur at a frequency of ~77 per generation but only one of them occurs in a gene. So, analysing the past year students of Hogwarts we find just one person who is a mudblood in a given year. So for a wizarding or magical trait the frequency of de novo mutation in that gene is approximately 1 in 750,000 (considering the population of UK since Hogwarts is in UK).

That is a really slim chance. And, most probably we aren’t that 1 in 750,000 if we still haven’t got our letter.

That is why Hermione is a witch and we aren’t.

To know that our seven years of faith can be broken in one class of genetics with a little help from pure statistics is terrible. I can’t still stop waiting for the letter even after knowing the harsh truth.

And to conclude, and console myself for the rest of my life, I just figured a new argument:
Maybe, my letter was tied to Errol.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The 39 Steps

Title: The 39 Steps

Author: John Buchan

Richard Hannay is bored and disgusted with the city life in London. Initially, it had been a sort of Arabian-Nights-come-true to live in the Old Country. But the pleasures of London had worn off well before a single month. As if in answer to his growing boredom, one day, he finds a man named Scudder in his house, who seeks refuge from dangerous enemies in Hannay’s place.

Scudder tells Hannay an elaborate tale of how he was being followed and why his followers want to kill him. Hannay, happy that something exciting was happening to him, agrees to shelter Scudder till he was safe to leave. While coming back home from outside, a few days after, he finds Scudder murdered brutally in his house. When everybody assumes that he is the murderer, Hannay sets off on a escape-adventure posing as many different people and exploring the mountains and moors of Scottish terrain and fleeing from two different sets of pursuers- one, the London Police for whom he is a murderer on the run, and two, the Black Stone(the murderers of Scudder) for whom he is a man who knows the deadly secret that Scudder knew. Along the way, he unravels Scudder’s real mission with the help of Scudder’s black notebook full of coded clues. With the timely aid of many innocents such as a milkman, a literary innkeeper, a radical candidate and a spectacled roadman, he continues with his mission to accomplish Scudder’s job.

I loved the part where he first meets the bald archaeologist and realizes that he is the dangerous man that Scudder narrated in his story. Hannay's shock at the realization and the desperate attempt to conceal his shock is most entertaining.

The 39 steps is a fast-paced book and is unputdownable. It is packed with action, adventure and thrill. The roller-coaster ride from Hannay’s monotonous life to one packed with suspense and mystery, is an amazing read!

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Trials Of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle

Title: The Trials Of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle

Author: Rick Riordan

After the previous five-book-series of The Heroes Of Olympus, Rick Riordan is back again to give his readers a story from Greek myth - The Hidden Oracle- the first book in the next saga The Trials Of Apollo.

Since the book has been released only this week, I am not detailing the story. No spoilers!

The story revolves around the Greek God of Sun, Music, Archery and a “bunch of other stuff”, the Lord Apollo, who falls to the Earth after being punished by his father Lord Zeus to undergo several trials and prove his worth before getting restored in his godly form in Olympus again.

The book starts with the heroic landing of the sun God in a pile of garbage in an alley in West Manhattan as a dorky sixteen-year-old mortal named Lester Papadopoulos. The mortal, powerless Lester is forced to serve Meg(Margaret), an untrained demigod in of the Manhattan streets. Their bonding, and their adventures before they reach Camp Half Blood, and an unofficial quest to find the hidden oracle of Dodona is the crux of the story.

This book brings us back many of the characters whom we adore like Percy, Chiron, Will, Nico and even Mrs O’Leary. And towards the end of the book, there is an amazing entry of Leo Valdez with his pet metal dragon Festus. But somehow, when I read the book, I did not feel the same charm that Percy or Leo used to bring, back in the old series. I felt Percy was less cool. He was not the Percy I knew six months earlier(time period according to the book), and I didn’t know Percy can become such an all-time-worried chap from the happy go lucky guy that he was within such a short time. Leo, too, had changed too much. And in all parts that they appeared, I was telling myself: There is something wrong with them. What is it? Probably nothing is. But I don’t know.

The new characters are charming as ever. I especially loved Meg and her pet karpoi named Peaches. Apollo in the form of Lester is also super cool. One other character whom I loved was Harley, son of Hephaestus.

I liked the parts when Apollo was not able to accept and come to terms with the fact that he wasn't a God anymore but a mere mortal. The parts in which Apollo forgets that he is in mortal form without any powers, but talks like a God in his mortal voice, is very funny, and for poor Apollo- it is pathetic!

The book was totally cool. The plot was amazing and there was a very unexpected twist in the end. It was an awesome read!

Thanks, Riordan!

Now, the wait for the next book- The Hammer Of Thor in the Magnus Chase series- begins!

Monday, March 28, 2016

To Kill A Mockingbird

Title: To Kill A Mockingbird

Author: Harper Lee

Six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, fondly known as Scout, and her elder brother Jeremy Finch, or Jem for short, live with their father Atticus Finch, a lawyer, in the tired old racist town of Maycomb, Alabama. One summer, they get introduced to a boy named Charles Harris Baker, who shortly called himself Dill. Dill, Scout and Jem start playing and spending a lot of time together. They are terrified, but also amazed, at their neighbour Arthur “Boo” Radley whom they have never seen and who hasn’t come out of his home for many years. Once, Dill dares Jem to touch the wall of the Radley mansion just to prove he wasn’t afraid. They do many things and work out many plans to make Boo Radley come out of his house. After the summer, Dill goes back to his family and, Scout and Jem are left to themselves.

While walking back home from school, Jem and Scout discover small  gifts like bubblegum and wrappers in a tree-hole in the Radley’s place. Deciding that those who discover things are the owners until somebody else’s ownership is proven, they start taking the gifts. They get a packet of bubble gums, a small figurine of themselves, a wristwatch and many other assorted gifts. Jem writes a letter to the person thanking him for the gifts. The next day, they see Mr. Radley, Boo Radley’s father sealing the tree hole with cement. They are disappointed that they can’t get any more gifts, but in time forget about it.

Meanwhile, Atticus is posted to defend innocent Tom Robinson, a black man, accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell.  Atticus fights his best and proves why Tom Robinson hadn’t done it. But, Maycomb, steeped in racism, had never delivered a case in favour of the coloured and is also not prepared to do so. Tom Robinson is unfairly convicted. Atticus and Jem completely lose faith in the law of the country. But Atticus destroys Ewell’s last thread of public pride. Due to this, Ewell swears to kill Atticus. Jem, Scout and Atticus fear the attack but it does not happen for many days. Also, the town of Maycomb starts abusing Atticus as a "nigger-lover", and blames him for letting his children mix even with the coloured. They blame him for setting a bad example.

On Halloween night, sly Mr. Ewell attacks Jem and Scout in the dark while they return from a party. Jem gets badly hurt and Scout does not understand what is happening. At that point, a mysterious man saves Jem and Scout and take them home. After going home, Atticus calls the doctor to check on Jem’s broken hand. They go back to the place of attack and find Ewell dead. Meanwhile, Scout finds out that it was Boo Radley who had saved Jem and her. She immediately stops fearing Boo Radley, goes up to him and thanks him. She gets to know that it was Boo who left them all their small gifts.

Atticus is under the assumption that Jem killed Ewell, while Atticus’s friend Mr. Tate believes Boo did it. But finally, they conclude that Ewell fell on his own knife and killed himself: like what happens to those who kill a mockingbird!

Scout goes to drop Boo Radley in his place. Boo Radley goes inside his home, and that is the last time they see him. The story ends by Scout feeling bad to have not given Boo anything even after he has given them so much.

I like Dill and Scout the best. They are really charming and insane with their ideas. I love them. The best part in the book was when Scout met Boo Radley in the end. I like Boo Radley very much too. 

The book is all about respecting people because they are people and not on the basis of colour. It talks about overcoming the stereotypes and fighting the right battle. The book was really nice. I loved it.