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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tips for growing organic food - 1

Organic food has a lot of promises. At the very base level, organic food meets the expectation of people that their food be grown without a fertilizer and chemical cocktail. In organic farming, some of the concepts revolve around food growing practices that rely on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests. Some of the practices that are strictly excluded include limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms. Demand for organic food has grown massively.
What are some of the tips that one should follow when attempting to start the process of growing organic food.
1. Be convinced about not using weed killers and pesticides to your garden. If you are not convinced, then there is no point in going organic.
2. When starting out, do not plant in areas close to walls or fences. Such areas could be contaminated by paint, heavy chemicals, metals, etc.
3. Search for areas in your garden that received sun or are in partial shade the year round.
4. Clean the entire area, including removing earlier plants (if starting out organic the first time). Use a shovel if necessary to remove the roots from earlier plants.
5. Get into the habit of using organic compost material (learn how to prepare compost - an excellent growth material for the soil)
6. Prepare the garden by spreading leaves / already prepared compost all over your garden. This ensures that your garden gets its fill of organisms that are beneficial to it.
7. Once you have spread the compost / leaves / other such organic material over the soil of the garden, turn the top soil over, mixing the soil with the organic material so as to make sure that the top layer of the soil is very rich.
8. Water the soil frequently so as to make sure that it remains damp (not a flowing river though); this ensures that organisms get a good environment to propagate in
9. Do not take steps that could harden the soil - this includes stepping on the soil yourself, or moving heavy objects on the soil.
10. Learn about crop rotations for getting different sorts on nutrients in the soil.
This is it for this post. In the next post, there will be more details on how to get a good organic garden up and running.

Optimizing your Wordpress account - 1

In 2 previous posts where I described problems with my Wordpress account, the preliminary solutions prescribed were:
- Keep your Wordpress account updated to the latest release
- Keep spam to a minimum, including emptying the Akismet spam folder on a regular basis

These are just temporary solutions, given that Wordpress is supposed to be not yet including optimization code in it and as a result, takes more CPU than required (see a description of Wordpress optimization deficiences on this page).

What are some of the other things you can do:
1. Review the list of plugins that are in use. A number of users download a number of plugins and keep them active. Each plugin is a performance hit of some sort, and you should review your plugins to see which of these plugins are really necessary vs. plugins that do not add much value and are a performance hit.
2. Use some sort of caching in order to prevent each page hit querying the database and slowing down the server. You can use WP-Cache (link) or you can use Word Super Cache (link)
3. Using graphics. If you have a number of graphics, those are additional graphics that need to be served to your users. As an example, refer this calculation from Wordpress Codex:

For example, let's say the front page of your blog calls upon 8 graphics to create the "look" of your blog's design. Add to this number the various WordPress template files it takes to build your page. You've got the header, sidebar, footer, and post content area at a minimum. That's four more "calls" to files on your site. For 100 visitors, those files get loaded 1200 times. For 1000 visitors, those files are accessed and loaded 12000 times. This increases your bandwidth and server activity.

4. Use spam filters such as Akismet to prevent comment spam
5. Try and get others to host your content. You have some great graphics or some analytics that need calculation which are done at run time. These also take server processing load, and is preferable to get content from elsewhere. For example, analyics information is also availabe at sites such as Google Analytics and all the calculation is done on those servers.

Classic English Movie: West Side Story (1961)

There are many movies that have been adapted from screenplays or from books, and West Side Story is one of the most successful of the lot. The movie was adapted from a running screenplay of the same name, which was adapted from a very famous piece of work by Shakespeare called 'Romeo and Juliet'. The movie credits the direction by 2 people - Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Jerome Robbins was the first director, and he was also the director of the stage version, as well as being responsible for planning and directing all music and dance sequences in the film, as well as all the fight scenes. However, when around 60% of the movie had been shot, the producer of the movie (Robert Wise) felt that the costs had not been in check, and Robbins was fired. In the end, when the movie earned 10 Oscars (out of a total of 11 Academy Awards nominations), Robbins got a special award.

Poster for West Side Story, movie released in 1961 that won 10 Oscars

The concept of 'Romeo and Juliet' is an extremely old concept, valid in different cultures and across geographies. The theory that a girl and boy from 2 rival clans meet, fall in love, and fall victim to the enmity between their clans (and getting killed due to this rivalry) is something that finds mention in a lot of different cultures. This movie is also based on the same concept, with the clans being modified to be 2 different gangs set in New York in the 1950's. These are 2 rival gangs called the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks (and these are composed of members from different racial backgrounds), fighting for supremacy over the New York neighborhoods in which they operate.
The romantic duo are Tony (Richard Beymer), who is a former member of the Jets gang (and also its co-founder), and Maria (Natalie Wood), who is the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris), the head of the rival Puerto Rican immigrants gang, the Sharks. These 2 meet at a dance, to which Tony has gone to convey a message about a challenger between the 2 gangs, something that would decide the rivalry once and for all.
The movie is a musical, so there are several song and dances about the tension in the gangs as they proceed to a final rumble (the challenge) between them, along with the excitement in the life of Tony and Maria as their love increases. The story climaxes when Maria requests Tony to stop the rumble, and Tony is subject to ridicule from the gang members when he tries to stop them. His attempts are met with scorn, and the Jets head Riff cannot stand to see this ridicule of his close friend and starts fighting with Bernardo. In this tussle, Bernardo kills Riff, and Tony kills Bernardo in revenge. At this point, the police arrive and the gang members disperse.
Maria is informed by another gang member Chino (Jose DeVega) about the fight and about Tony killing her brother. When Tony arrives, Maria is very angry, but Tony manages to convince her by detailing what happened at the fight, and by offering to surrender to the police. However, the story happens in tragedy when Tony and Maria are about to meet, Chino comes in and shoots Tony. It is in this tragedy that the gangs unite, when member of both gangs carry Tony's body.

Academy awards:


Academy Award for Best Picture – Robert Wise, producer
Academy Award for Directing – Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – George Chakiris
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – Rita Moreno
Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Set Decoration, Color) – Victor A. Gangelin and Boris Leven
Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Color) – Daniel L. Fapp
Academy Award for Costume Design (Color) – Irene Sharaff
Academy Award for Film Editing – Thomas Stanford
Academy Award for Original Music Score of a Musical Picture – Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Irwin Kostal, and Sid Ramin
Academy Award for Sound – Fred Hynes (Todd-AO SSD), and Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD)


Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium – Ernest Lehman

Photos tips for Wildlife Shooting (contd..)

Tip 1 (Make yourself invisible): A lot of animals react very quickly to human presence, not something that helps you when you are trying to shoot photos of wildlife in actual wild conditions. You need to have some way of concealing your presence and not making quick movements after that; one way is to use blinds, something that makes it seem to the animal that you are not there. One way to do that is by hiding yourself in some natural hiding place (such as on a tree, behind some thick bushes; even vehicles can be effective blinds). Blinds are also available commercialy.

Tip 2 (Get closer): Good zoom lenses are an invaluable part of a wildlife photographer's equipment. However, zoom lenses are not the only thing. You need to learn the art of how to get closer to the animal (keeping aspects such as safety in mind). Some of the greatest photos that you can see in wildlife books are taken from close range; there is a lot of literature available on how to get inside the trust zone of a wild animal.

Tip 3 (Need to decide about whether you want to use aperture control or shutter speed): Ideally, shutter speed and aperture control are both different ways of looking at exposure, except for the depth of field argument. As you should be knowing, aperture controls the depth of field, and hence the tricky choice of whether you want to use aperture control for getting that sharp depth of field (say capturing the animal in an out-of-focus surrounding) or using shutter speed to freeze capture the bear getting a fish out of the water.

Tip 4 (Look for behavior): Study the probable behavior of the animal before you go in for the shot. If it turns out that the animal likes to doze in the daytime and you go for a day shot, then you may not get anything much. Study the time zones, watering habits, mating habits, hunting habits, all of them enable you to learn about the animal even before setting out for the shoot.

Tip 5 (Try and capture different moods): Animals are known for differnet moods, and good photos come when you try to capture the mood. A tiger or lion watching a herd of deer makes for a nice hungry mood shot. These make the good shots that get fame and attention.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tourist places: Lord Amarnath Yatra: The holy pilgrimage in India

Climate: Average Max temp 16°C, Min Temperature -4°C.
Best time to visit: July to August.
Height: Amarnath is located at a height of 3888 metre above sea level.

The trek to the Amarnath caves during the months of June - August every year is one of the most holy pilgrimages for Hindus. However, it is an ardous trek, passing through mountains, through ice and involving physical hardship. However, a large number of tourists (in the hundreds of thousands) visit the caves during the auspicious period.
The Cave entrance is a very visible hole on the side of the mountain. Inside, it has the Shivalinga formed naturally of an ice stalagmite. Unbelievably, it waxes and wanes along with the phases of the moon. By its side are two more ice lingams, of Parvati and Ganesha. On the full moon day the linga is about 6 ft high.
As per mythology, Lord Shiva is one of the holy trinity, a living god. Lord Shiva was explaining the secret of creation to his consort, Parvati. Unknown to them, a pair of doves eavesdropped on this conversation and having learnt the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam.
According to an ancient tale, there was once Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a Sadhu. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome. Buta Malik rushed back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. To date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust which manages the shrine. The cave was re-discovered in 1850, although details of the pilgrimage has been documented in historical tales for many years, with the belief being that the knowledge of the cave has been known for 5,000 years now.

Amarnath on

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Amarnath on

There is no place to stay at the Amarnath caves, and hence return from the caves is a must.
Tips for a safe trip:
* Be in good physical condition as the yatra is very long and rigorous. You will need to be fit to endure the journey.
* You should carry needful warm clothings and wind shield with proper shoes. The weather can be very dangerous during the trip. The climatic conditions are very uncertain . Rain or snowfall may take place at any time or place during the Yatra . It is to be particularly noted that abrupt changes in temperature might occur.
* Carry water with you along with dry fruits and baked grams during journey.
* Do pack your common medicines such as Glucose, Disprin etc. for an instant relief in case of any emergency.
* Keep vaseline or cold cream with you to have protection against cold winds.
* The item one must carry in abundance is sunscreen cream. The merciless sun can burn the exposed parts in minutes.
* Drugs are prohibited during your journey.
* Do not take short cuts and stop at such places which have warning notices as it may be dangerous for your life even. The terrain can be fairly dangerous, so be careful.

How to reach:

Air: The capital of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar has the nearest airport. Srinagar is located 45 km from Amarnath. Srinagar is well connected by flight to other cities of India.

Rail: The summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu city is the nearest railway station. There is considerable distance between Jammu and Amarnath caves (300 km) and the road jounrney takes many hours.

Road: Amarnath is accessible from Pahalgam or Baltal, and both these locations are well connected by road from Srinagar.

Helicopter: The Amarnath caves are now well connected by helicopter from Baltal and Srinagar. (Refer this site for a package)

One of the routes:
From Pahalgaam, the taxi drops you at Chandanwari, and then the trek to Lord Amarnath Caves starts from Chandanwari. On a normal trek, the first day's stoppage is at Sheshnag, second day stop is Panchtarni, and on the third day you go from Panchtarni to the holy cave and come back and stay in the night at Panchtarni. The return is just like the forward trek, first return to Sheshnag and then Chandanwari.

External sites / blogs:
1. Trekking to Amarnath Yatra (link)

Scenic beauty nearby was wonderful. Devdar trees, waterfalls, snow color river, flowers of different kinds, environment of Amarnath Yatra and zeal of Kashmir started taking on us. Here on we started admiring beauty of Kashmir and why all call it as heaven on the earth.

2. Spiritual travel post on Amarnath yatra (link)
No matter how fit you are, this is one demanding hike. The religious faith and zeal are what keep most of the people going. There are huge community kitchens set up at regular distances to feed the people. Some tents are also provided to offer shelter from the elements as you break for the night. The climb is difficult but it is not uncommon to see entire families making the journey together. You will have grand parents, parents and children all climbing up the slippery and treacherous slopes together. Falling, recovering, and supporting each another with physical help and encouraging words.

3. Some beautiful photos (link)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Benefits of Six Sigma Certification

Six Sigma is a major certification to display the quality of processes followed within a company; and it is not only limited to displaying the quality. The process of seeking and getting six sigma certification means that the company is making a statement that it wants its processes to be better, with lesser defects (both for manufacturing and services), and more customer focus. So what are the benefits that Six Sigma presents to companies that are looking to adopt it:
- First is the commitment to quality. Aiming for Six Sigma means that all levels of the organization are seeking to increase their commitment to quality, which automatically boosts the quality.
- Reduction in defects (and the public statement about the reduction in defects (whether these be through manufacture of goods or provision of services) means that customers would be more satisfied. As they see that the defect levels have gone down, they will be more likely to do repeat business.
- Many customers only entertain suppliers with a high level of quality, and having Six Sigma means that a company is displaying a very high commitment to quality, enabling the company to qualify for all cases
- Increased employee satisfaction. Many employees may be somewhat lukewarm to the concept of a more disciplined and quality focused approach, but as they see their output being valued by customers, they are likely to be more satisfied with their work.
- Increase productivity and profitability. As the number of defects reduce, the cost per unit of the production will go down, and will lead to enhanced levels of profitability, contributing to higher overall profits for the company
- The company will attract better talent, since a number of employees will feel more comfortable with a company employing such a high level of quality

Benefits of Six Sigma certification (contd ..)

The previous post outlined some of the benefits that going in for Six Sigma certification entails. Here are some more benefits that are available as part of this certification:

- Six Sigma results in significant cost savings. Six Sigma lets you get more details about what is coming next, lets you prepare in more detail, there are less defects and less wastage
- The philosophy of Six Sigma is to improve customer satisfaction by preventing defects, thus resulting in greater satisfaction.
- Six Sigma initiates the practice of much enhanced vigilance about philosophy, about getting more customer satisfaction; and lead to the companies defining more measures for every element of the production / service chain
- Six Sigma training ensures that personnel are fully aware of the tools and techniques needed to improve quality, and explain the concept of variance, metrics, processes, etc to company personnel in a way that they would not have understood earlier
- The training helps people understand where all wastage happens in various processes, automatically leading to some reduction in waste
- Statistically, a company that has implemented Six Sigma is found to spend < 1% of revenue on rework compared to 10% for a company having Four Sigma
- Capacity and output are improved. As a part of reducing wastage, you can produce more correct products from the same capacity, or generate a higher level of software productivity from the same people
- Communication within the various groups is improved through the need for having better processes for all groups

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brother MFC-7840W Laser Multifunction Center with Wireless and Ethernet Network Interfaces

The Brother MFC-7840W Laser Multi-Function Center with Wireless Networking is an economical, compact device that can handle all your small office printing, copying, scanning, and faxing needs. With crisp, high-quality output and fast print speeds, you won't be waiting around for the MFC-7840N to finish its job. It is compatible with both Macs and Windows, and built-in 802.11b/g wireless networking makes it easy for you to share the device with everyone in your office.
The MFC-7840W measures a compact 16.9 x 15.6 x 12 inches (WxDxH) and tips in at just under 25 pounds, taking up minimal space in your office. Featuring an elegant black color scheme, the device won't look out of place in any office. An LCD backlit display keeps you apprised of the device's status. With USB, Ethernet and 802.11b/g wireless interfaces, setting up this printer for use with a single computer or with a network is simple. Once connected, everyone in your office can print, fax, and scan. The wireless networking supports WEP 64/128, WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK, and LEAP for security so you won't have to worry about your sensitive documents falling into the wrong hands.

<br />Brother MFC-7840W Laser Multifunction Center with Wireless and Ethernet Network Interfaces

Technical Details

* Multifunction device prints, copies, scans, and faxes in one compact form factor with built-in wireless networking
* Prints and copies at 23 pages per minutes; scans at 19200 x 19200 dpi resolution (600 x 2400 dpi optical) at 48-bit color depth
* Support for 802.11b/g wireless networking
* 35-page automatic document feeder makes copying, faxing and scanning multiple pages easy
* Measures 21.7 x 20.1 x 20.5 inches (WxDxH)

Customer feedback:

1. I spent about a week researching for just the right multi-function printer for my needs. I own a small business with about 30 employees so I needed more than an inkjet but didn't require a 'corporate' $1000+ version either. I needed fax, scan, copy, and print capability with laser printing and built-in wireless capability. Suprisingly, there are not that many printers on the market that can give you all of these in one package. Originally I was going to purchase the Brother's MFC-8870 for around $500 which all the reviews on the internet recommend, but I found this while browsing around and realized that it had just come out a few weeks ago. Although there were no reviews out yet for this new printer, it was considerably less expensive than the 8870 and the only thing I seemed to be losing was auto-duplexing so I made the purchase. It took about 15 minutes total for me to set up an ad-hoc wireless printer setup and everything works great. The scans are nice, the printing is very crisp and clear even in very small fonts. The only thing I haven't tried yet is the fax which I won't be using much. I really can't say anything bad about this product.

2. I was looking for a laser multifunction device with network capability that I could use to print from my laptop anywhere in the house. A lot of reviews seemed to point to the Brother MFCs as the best overall brand for laser monochrome devices. The only problem was that there were a LOT of different models to choose from - just going to the Brother website to do some comparison shopping made my head spin. The MFC-7840W is a recently introduced model which has seemed to get good reviews across the board. A major plus is that it has both wireless and wired network capabilities. I took the plunge and purchased this model. Since I already had a wireless router to plug it into, I didn't need to use the wireless capabilities, but it seemed to be a nice option for future flexibility. The Ethernet connection was easy to set up and worked the first time I tried printing from my laptop.
I've been very pleased with the quality and feature set of the MFC-7840W. Not only does it print high quality output, but it has clearly-labeled buttons for scan, fax, and copy, which makes it a breeze to use any of these functions. Plus, the device is relatively light and doesn't have a very large footprint, so it fits easily on top of a small file cabinet. High marks overall.

Toshiba Satellite A355-S6931 16.0-Inch Laptop

Replace your desktop PC with the Toshiba Satellite A355-S6931 laptop, featuring all the power and hard drive space you expect from a top-of-the-line desktop but in an easily mobile package. Stylishly designed, this Toshiba Satellite features a large, bright 16-inch LCD (1366 x 768)--with a true 16:9 aspect ratio and 720p native high-definition resolution. It's also great for using as a media center, with Toshiba's Express Media Player enabling you to bypass the system and access CDs and DVDs with a touch of button. The dual-layer DVD±RW drive also burns CDs and offers LabelFlash print functionality. A 1.3 megapixel digital web camera built into the LCD's bezel lets you quickly snap photos and participate in live video chats.
The integrated webcam does more than just video chats. It includes Toshiba Face Recognition capabilities--the ultimate hands-free, hassle-free way to log onto your laptop. Just show your face to the webcam--no keeping track of hard-to-remember passwords and no unnecessary typing. And if you're using one laptop for several users--say for the whole family or for a small business--Toshiba Face Recognition lets you switch profiles with one simple look.

Toshiba Satellite A355-S6931 16.0-Inch Laptop


* 16-inch LCD screen
* 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 processor (Centrino 2)
* 320 GB hard drive
* 4 GB RAM (maximum)
* Dual-layer DVD±R drive with LabelFlash
* Draft-N Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
* Intel GMA X4500MHD graphics (up to 1750 MB shared)
* Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)
* Fusion finish with Constellation Black pattern
* Weighs 6.5 pounds

Customer feedback:

This is my second Toshiba laptop. Number one is around 4 years old and still works well. This review is more about the A355 chassis, than this exact spec laptop, and should apply to just about every one of the laptops in this series whether they run AMD or Intel chips. The first view is that the materials are just plain flat out gorgeous. From the shiny exterior, to the semi rounded base, the two large chrome mouse buttons, the nicely integrated Harmon Kardon speakers, the illuminated touch areas, the big beautiful monitor, and those shiny keys. Yes this is one very pretty computer.
Under that pretty hood are some interesting specs. It used to be incredibly rare to see an eSATA port on any computer, let alone a laptop. Well this one has exactly that - an eSATA port that doubles as a USB port. Nice option to hook up external hard drives. It also includes an iLink, Firewire, or IEEE-1394 port - an incredible rarity (even Apple dropped this port). The audio ports and volume control are on the front, nicely placed. There's absolutely no ports on the rear. There's also an express card slot (not a PCMCIA slot, but EXPRESS card slot) and a multi flash memory card reader (they've dropped CF from the list). It does not include Bluetooth - a very strange omission since every single bluetooth adapter uses the Toshiba stack to run. Use either of these adapters, they work perfectly: IOGear GBU421 Bluetooth 2.0 USB Micro Adapter or Cirago BTA3210 Class 2 Micro Bluetooth Adapter (Black Tip) - both are outstanding miniscule adapters.

Black & Decker SZ360 3.6-Volt Ni-Cad Cordless Power Scissors

These scissors offer way more cutting power than just about anyone can muster with muscle alone, and best of all, it’s effortless. You can’t help but love a product that makes life so much easier, especially for folks who suffer from arthritis. You can cut nearly anything with these, from delicate pattern paper to sheet vinyl flooring and window screening, with just the press of a button. Our favorite job for these, though, is to easily slice into that impossible-to-open, hard plastic packaging that seems to be on most everything these days. It’s no match for these scissors.
When power scissors first came out, there wasn’t too much concern about ergonomics, but we know so much more these days about how important that is. Black & Decker’s made this power tool a treat for the body to use, with a nice cushy grip, super light weight and no force needed. One charge will keep you cutting for 70 minutes, and then you just plug it in and charge it again. There’s no end to what you can use these power scissors for – gift wrapping, sewing, scrapbooking, decorating, jobs around the house, crafts, clipping coupons.

Black & Decker SZ360 3.6-Volt Ni-Cad Cordless Power Scissors

Technical Details

* 3.6-volt cordless power scissors cut through a wide variety of delicate and tough materials
* Ergonomically-shaped handle for comfortable, non-slip gripping
* Provides up to 70 hours of continuous power with each full charge
* Includes universal cutting blade and charger
* 2-year warranty

Customer feedback:

1. I purchased these scissors after seeing them advertised on the (....) tube. After seeing the price I figured what could I lose I mean really, I've spent more on lottery tickets and ended up with nothing to show for it. I charged the scissors for 12 hours as per the instructions and then went on a cutting frenzy! Trust me folks, there was not a safe magazine, cardboard box or plastic carton for 2 miles that I didn't chop to bits with these things. The power of the scissors is really quite amazing considering their size and weight and they fit your hand like a glove. The only thing I could think of to improve this product (More like a wish) is to have a holster for them that you can wear on your belt like a cowboy and his trusty six-shooter. Yep, there would have been a very different outcome at the O.K. Corral if I had been there with my powered scissors.
Ok so enough blabbering, the scissors are a great product at a good price, just be careful not to become a power scissor bandito or you and I are going to have it out on the white paper of life!

2. The Black and Decker Cordless Power Scissors, along with Black and Decker's Cordless Screwdriver
and the Black & Decker Handisaw were just what we were in the market for. While I had often thought about buying them in the past, this seemed to be a perfect time to finally make the purchase. Just in time to use for the cutting and wrapping of our family Christmas presents. Because my wife has a plate in her wrist using regular scissors is sometimes, literally, a pain for her. Not so with the Black and Decker Cordless Scissors. She has said these just glide right through. She doesn't have to work the scissors, she said she just holds them and goes along for the ride! Not having any wrist or hand fatigue to deal with is a blessing. Works as smooth as a knife through butter!

Photos tips for Wildlife Shooting (contd..)

Tip 1 (Read up about it): This is actually a tip that is valid for most photo scenarios, especially for wildlife cases. In the case of wildlife, with subjects that are elusive, or visible only at night, or fast moving; the photo gear and techniques are critical to get success in this area. One way to succeed in this area is to read articles / magazines / books that focus on wildlife photography, you get a lot of information and useful tips from the same area.

Tip 2 (Shoot a lot of photos): Expect to shoot a lot of photos when you are trying to shoot wildlife. Animals don't pose, move around a lot, and many times the environmental conditions (night, etc) are not ideal; as a result, you would have to take a lot of photos to get the right photo. You should have a good battery (including backup), and large memory cards (fortunately, they are fairly cheap now).

Tip 3 (Be preapred to drop photos): For people who have been photographers for some time now, they are used to shooting and then being selective about the photos you want; however amateurs are more connected to the photos that they have shot and find it harder to delete photos even if the photos are not good. Not being able to quickly sort through photos and delete the ones that are not required can lead to a lot of clutter, something to be avoided.

Tip 4 (Patience): I spoke about patience some time back in terms of waiting for wildlife to be in the right patience, and the same thing holds good even when waiting to get a great shot of a beautiful butterfly. Insects, birds, etc flutter around a lot, and it is only rarely do they seem to be sitting down on a flower to get the great photo. You need a lot of patience for this kind of photo.

Tip 5 (Be attentive): When shooting wildlife, especially when shooting wildlife in the open, you need to be very attentive. Some of the great shots happen suddenly, where there is a fight at a watering hole, or a chase suddenly starts. Some of those happens irrespective of whether you are looking in that direction or another direction, so you should be able to quickly change your focus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What is Six Sigma ?

Six Sigma is an important measure of the quality of a system, being adopted by many top-class corporations the world over such as GE. Six Sigma has spawned an industry of its own, in terms of experts who go to corporations and figure out how these companies can improve their processes so as to meet Six Sigma quality standards, and there are teachers who give instructions as to how to become a Six Sigma expert. Six Sigma was initially implemented by Motorola, and is now adopted the world over. Six Sigma is primarily used in manufacturing and business practices, and seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and variations. Six Sigmas has its own infrastructure, such as - It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization ("Black Belts" etc.) who are experts in these methods. Six Sigma was originally developed as a set of practices designed to improve manufacturing processes and eliminate defects, but its application was subsequently extended to other types of business processes as well. In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as anything that could lead to customer dissatisfaction.
Sigma (the lower-case Greek letter σ) is used to represent the standard deviation (a measure of variation) of a statistical population. The term "six sigma process" comes from the notion that if one has six standard deviations between the process mean and the nearest specification limit, there will be practically no items that fail to meet specifications.

As a comparison of the various quality norms:
Short-term sigma levels correspond to the following long-term DPMO (defective parts per million opportunities) values:

* 1 sigma = 690,000 DPMO = 31% efficiency
* 2 sigma = 308,000 DPMO = 69.2% efficiency
* 3 sigma = 66,800 DPMO = 93.32% efficiency
* 4 sigma = 6,210 DPMO = 99.379% efficiency
* 5 sigma = 230 DPMO = 99.977% efficiency
* 6 sigma = 3.4 DPMO = 99.9997% efficiency

Put another way, this reads as “3.4 defects per million opportunities to make defects”. This is a very high level of quality, and it takes a lot of effort, hard work, and process improvements to reach this level. Six Sigma is also being implemented by many software development companies for their projects.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Photos tips for Wildlife Shooting (contd..)

Tip 1 (Get down to the animal height): When shooting, we are used to shooting from a certain height (typical shoulder height). When shooting an animal, you may find that there is a different perspective to be gained when you do down and dirty shooting, that is when you crouch down to the animal height and shoot from there. It may look odd if somebody is looking, but you may get some good photos.

Tip 2 (Shooting through bars in a zoo): Face it, if you are shooting in a zoo, there will be those iron bars that could spoil most photos. You need to either shoot a classical shot that portrays those bars along with the animal, but for most shots, you would rather not have the bars in the set. What you need to do is to make your depth of field as shallow as possible (selecting a very large aperture f/2.8 would help).

Tip 3 (Plan your hours): You are going to the zoo to shoot animals, and have dedicated a fair amount of time for the same. That is perfectly fine, but unless you have worked out where and how you are going to spend your time, it is not very effective. You need to find out when animals are likely to be more active, when do they get fed, as these vary from animal to animal and are times when some great shots can be had.

Tip 4 (Spending time at enclosures): If you are an impatient kind of person, then you will have lots of problems. Suppose you see a majestic tiger, and want to get some great shots of the animal, you need to wait over there in an active mode, with camera ready and you ready to shoot at a second's instance.

Tip 5 (Look for people shots): You are at the zoo, and are there to shoot wildlife; so far so good. But always keep a watchout for people and their reactions to seeing the animals. When an animal does something interesting, there is an instantaneous reaction that people have, and these make for interesting shots. Kids especially are very animated.

Photos tips for Wildlife Shooting

Tip 1 (Practice in zoos): Before you consider going out in the open for doing wildlife photography, practice the shooting of animals in your local zoo or wildlife park. This gives you practice with the concept of shooting animals, even though they are not in their natural habitat.

Tip 2 (Zoos vs. Wildlife parks): Continuing with the earlier part, if you have a choice, then you should shoot in a wildlife park rather than a zoo. A wildlife park is more open and closer to a natural habitat for an animal rather than a zoo. Of course, there is a greater chance that you may not find the animal in a wildlife park or an animal sanctuary.

Tip 3 (Patience while shooting): Even in the controlled environment of a zoo, you still need a lot of patience for wildlife shooting. I know of people who have tried to shoot some majestic animals such as lions and tigers, and it has taken multiple visits to get the proper shooting.

Tip 4 (Safety): Always keep in mind when shooting wildelife that the environment is not a controlled environment unless you are shooting from behind a cage or from inside a vehicle. Animals can react very differently to what you expect, and unless you are expert with these animals, always keep an outlook for your own safety.

Tip 5 (Spare the environment): When shooting wildelife, you should follow a dictum of being nature and animal friendly. Don't make changes such as manipulating bird nests or disturbing animals when you are trying to shoot them. You are there to capture the beauty of nature's creatures, and you should be at the front of efforts to ensure that they are not disturbed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Data Flow Diagram - Some template locations

There are numerous locations on the internet where data flow templates can be found. Here are a few of the sites where you can find and use DFD templates.

Flowcharttools (depiction of what a template should look like) - Click here

Sample of what a Data Flow Diagram looks like (click here)

Sample DFD at docstoc (click here)

Samples at Gene Sarson (click here)

Templates at smartdraw (click here)

Example of DFD at conceptdraw (click here)

Visio and Word templates for DFD (click here)

Flowchart samples at edrawsoft (click here)

Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi - next to Connaught Place

Gurdwara Bangla Sahib is probably the most visited Gurdwara in Delhi. Located centrally in Delhi, it is located on the Baba Kharag Sahib Marg that has Connaught Place at one end, and Gol Dakhana (round post office) at the other end. The back side of the Gurdwara (and the associated school) opens up to Ashoka Road. The Gurdwara was originally the Bungalow of one of the important Rajput ruler Mirza Raja Jai Singh. Jai Singh was a devotee of Guru Harkrishan, and played a role in ensuring that politics being played out in the emperor's court did not cause Aurangzeb to treat the Sikh Guru badly. Guru Harkrishan had been nominated as a successor by the seventh Guru Sri Har Rai, and was summoned to Delhi by Emperor Aurangzeb in a furtive attempt by his older brother Baba Ram Rai to grab the Gurugadi. Earlier Baba Ram Rai had disgraced himself by giving a false translation of Bani to appease the Emperor. For this he had been disowned by his father and rewarded by Aurangzeb.
The place where the current Gurudwara is located was earlier a palatial home, and it was here that Guru Sri Harkishan had stayed here for a few months as a guest of Raja Jai Singh. It was during this time that there was a terrible epidemic of cholera and smallpox and the Guru spent a lot of time caring for people and distributing help. He was eventually struck by the disease as well, and died in Delhi in 1664. He used to distribute water from a well built in the house, and this water is said to have holy and medical properties. The water is now revered as having healing properties and is taken by Sikhs throughout the world back to their homes.
The grounds include the temple, a kitchen, a large pond, a school and an art gallery. As with all Sikh Gurdwaras, the concept of langar is practiced, and all people, regardless of race or religion may eat in the Gurdwara kitchen (langer hall).

Gurdwara Rakab Ganj in New Delhi's Pant Road

In the heart of New Delhi, on Pant Road, facing Parliament and North Block, there is a beautiful white marble Gurudwara, with entrances on all 4 sides (symbolizing the fact that the Gurudwara and the religion does not support any kind of separation of humanity based on caste or creed). It has a beautiful garden surrounding it. This is the Rakab Ganj Gurdwara, built in 1732 by a devotee (Lakhi Banjara) of the 9th Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur.
It was the year 1675, and the Guru Tegh Bahadur was in rebellion against the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb was a zealot who wanted to convert people to Islam, and Guru Tegh Bahadur was approached by Kashmiri Pandits for their defence. The Guru proceeded to reach Delhi so as to try to negotiate with Aurangzeb (although he knew that his death could happen). He was arrested and then eventually beheaded.
It is rumored that after he was beheaded, there was a massive dust storm and in that storm, his body was rescued by his disciple and taken to the disciple's home where to hide any special attempts to cremate the body, the disciple Lakhi Shah Vanjara kept the body in his own home and burnt down the home in order to do the last rites (the head was taken away separately to Anandpur Sahib where it was cremated).
It was this very spot where the body was cremated that is the site of the present Rakab Ganj Gurudwara.

Gurudwara Sis Ganj - located in the heart of Chandni Chowk

Getting into Chandni Chowk means taking the road from Red Fort and leading directly perpendicular to it. You see a straight road with a divider, and unless you are in the middle of the night or early morning, the road will be crowded with all sorts of traffic. There are numerous shops, and side roads that lead to narrow bustling shopping lanes. As you move ahead, you will see a beautiful Gurudwara to the left side, and this is called Gurdwara Sis Ganj. It is a pivotal part of life in Chandni Chowk, and you can see a huge number of devotees moving in and out of the Gurudwara. Not too many of these people though know the history of the Gurudwara, or the significance.
The life of the Sikh Gurus was built on the concept of sacrifice and not protecting their lives if their was something fundamental at stake. Thus it was during the time of the great (but cruel) Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who was more of a zealot than many of his previous Mughal emperors. This was also a time when there was a clash between the Mughals and the Sikh Gurus, and when the Mughal Emperor was forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. It was then that the Guru told a group of Pandits who approached him to tell the emperor that Aurangzeb should first convince the Guru to convert to Islam, and then only go to the Pandits.
The Guru refused and was imprisoned by the Emperor's men. He was finally beheaded on November 11th, 1675. His body was cremated secretly by one of his followers so that it would not be on display. Similarly, the separated head was taken to Chakk Nanaki in Anandpur Sahib. After around a century when the Mughal influence had waned and Sikhs had become more forceful, one of his followers Sardar Bhagel Singh, built the Gurudwara. The Gurudwara is made of white marble, has several domes with spires for flags and a water body for religious purposes. It took around Rs. 10 lakh and manpower of 4000 people over various stages to complete the Gurudwara.
The main structure of the Gurudwara is a large open hall. This is very spacious and has a bronze canopy in the middle under which, the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs is kept. The Guru Granth Sahib is covered with a large red tunic cloth and garlands. At night, the book is ceremonially carried to a special room in the gurudwara. Here it is kept in a transparent and well-lit glass chamber for the visitors. The book is kept there in a special-resting closet. It is surrounded by the pieces of tree trunk of the same banyan tree under which the Guru was martyred. There is also an enclosed structure where the guru was held prisoner before being executed. The people who go to the Sis Ganj Gurdwara also visit the well in which the Guru used to take his daily bath when he was in prison.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the youngest of the five sons of Guru Har Gobind. He was born in Amritsar in the early hours of 1st April 1621. The name Tegh Bahadur (mighty of the sword), was given to him by Guru Har Gobind after he had shown his valour in a battle with the Mughals.

Some photos of the Gurudwara can be seen at this link.

Composting tips - what works and what does not

For those people who are able to successfully create a compost pile, there is nothing like it; however for those who are not able to or fail in this attempt, there can be numerous reasons. Following are some tips on failure causes as well as what to do:

Drainage: Good drainage is essential. One solution for this is to have the base of the bin somewhat open so that excess water can flow out. This gap will also allow more microbes and insects to move in and out.

Accelerators: To get a pile started faster, use something called a compost accelerator. This is material that should be high in nitrogen - ideal things are human urine, blood meal, alfalfa meal, compost from a previously completed pile, manure, all these made good accelerators.

Water: Water in a pile is critical. A lot of failures to form compost happens when either the pile is dry or too wet. The definition of the desired level of water in a pile is: "Looks moist like a sponse that has been wrung-out", but this is not something that is easily measured. You need to have some understanding of the water levels of some of the ingredients of a pile. Some of the materials contain much water than seems evident.
Fresh materials such as grass, fresh leaves, vegetable wastes, manure, hay, kitchen scraps, etc contain far more water than seems evident. Fallen and dry leaves are browns that contain lower amounts of water. If you pile seems too wet, then you need to turn it out, mix it and add some brown materials that have less water. On the other hand, if the pile seems to heat up too much and then stops, then you need to add water.

Nitrogen content: Not enough nitrogen will lead to the pile stopping. You need to add items that have high nitrogen content - fresh green material such as grass, wastes, fresh green leaves, etc have a lot of nitrogen.

Newsprint: People have been warned of newspapers containing toxic or non-biodegradable materials, but that has reduced significantly. Shredded newsprint is useful for the compost.

Shredding: Shredding means that you have smaller particles in the compost, which means more surface area for the microbes to work through, and a faster pile.

Soil: Add some finely dispersed soil in the pile, since the soil comes with a lot of microbes and worms that are very important for the compost pile.

Areration: Aeration in this case means that the pile gets a lot of air (oxygen). The pile needs to be loosened with a fork so that air gets to the different parts of the pile. In addition, you can push bars down to the bottom of the pile so that air gets to inside the pile.

Measure the temperature: Keep a soil temperature to measure the temperature of the pile at frequent intervals. When the temperature of the pile falls to below 40 degress Celsius, then turn the pile. The temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius.

Using manure: Manure can form an important part of any compost pile. Use manure from any animal that is not a carnivore. Avoid using manure from commercial farms since the animals are fed a mixture of antibiotics.

Odours: If you compost pile has an unpleasant odor, then it is either too tightly packed, over-watered or has too much nitrogen. You should add some materials high in carbon content such as grass clippings, straw to the pile.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Preparing a good composting pile - the procedure

Compost is raw material for plants, an incredible boost to getting great plants. And this is something that can be made at home without too much effort or complication; however, not everybody is able to get it right. So here are some steps to ensure that you can prepare compost.

Where to make compost in:
You can make compost even under a big polythene sheet, but a bin makes the process a bit neater and cleaner. The bin just acts as a container, so having bins with different exteriors does not really matter.
The bin should have a lid, should not have gaps in the sides (to protect from natural elements), and should be easy enough for you to access (which means tall cyliners that you cannot see insides may not work).

What can you compost:
Well, almost anything organic can be put in a compost pile, and it will over a period of time convert it compost. However, there are some exclusions.
You should not put meat scraps and too oil based material, since meat attracts vermin.
Similarly, even if you have access to a lot of wood scraps, don't put too much
What can you put ?
As I said, almost anything. Put kitchen waste (peeling, roughings, vegetable cores, fruit pulp), lawn clippings, leaves (but larger leaves need to be cut into smaller sections for faster decay), branches (shredded), paper waste, hay, newspaper, and you can guess, many other similar things.

What do you do to get started:
Once you have the bin, start preparing layers of the various compost raw material. Once you have a six inch layer of such material, you need to add a 4 inch later of ready compost (you should save a bit of compost that has been prepared earlier), or soil, or manure.
Keep on making alternate layers of these materials until you have a pile that is around 3-4 feet high.

Maintenance during the composting process:
The pile should be in a region that is not directly exposed to harsh sunlight; a semi-shaded region is ideal. Keeping under sunlight would dry it out too much.
Water conditions for the compost pile is always where most failures occur. The pile should not be wet or dry, but moist. If you add too much water, you will get a sludge and certainly not compost.
You should turn the pile once in a while, a week or later. This allows more air and oxygen into all parts of the pile, ensuring that the bacteria and fungi get everything they need to grow.
Using urine (even though it seems sometimes a bit repulsive) acts as an accelerator to the compost pile and is pretty useful.

How do you know when the pile is ready:
It can take anywhere between 2 months and one year to form compost.
When you open the compost pile and find that the ingredients have turned to a material that looks dark brown and smells somewhat like earth, the compost is literally done. However, it should still be left for a period of 2 weeks to a month before being used.
If you find some large particles still in the compost, you can either use them along with the compost, or you can add them back to the new compost pile you may be creating.

In addition to this, there are many reasons why a compost pile may fail, so the next post will contain some tips for the compost making process.

Research: Extract from red sea coral can treat skin cancer

Research for combating cancer goes off into many different paths - one area is to determine the genes that kick off the cancer cells, or provide an indication of whether there is a higher risk of cancer; another area is to find naturally occurring ingredients that can either decrease the chance of getting cancer, or reduce / stop the incidence of cance once a person has been afflicted with the cancer. As a part of this, researchers have found an extract from coral found in the red sea that acts against skin cancer (link to article):

The team led by SDSU distinguished professor Chandradhar Dwivedi looked at the chemo
preventive effects of sarcophine-diol, made from a substance called sarcophine that can be isolated from soft coral found in the Red Sea. They found that sarcophine-diol has the potential to inhibit cell growth of cancers, and induce orderly, programmed cell death of skin cancer cells.
The study showed that treating human skin cancer cells with different concentrations of sarcophine-diol for different lengths of time reduced the viability of cancer cells in each case. Sarcophine-diol also inhibited the proliferation or uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. It also induced apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells.

Further research is required in this area, but this a postive trend in the cure against skin cancer.

Cancer research: Time when menarche and menopause happens linked to cancer

Doing statistical analysis of patients to determine trends does not seem very exciting; however, large scale analysis is extremely useful to determine trends - these trends can in turn be used to determine when testing should happen, or to determine whether it can be determined that someone is at a higher risk of getting cancer. In the below article, scientists did analysis on tens of thousands of women to determine genetic variations that can determine the age of onset of menarche and menopause, which in turn are used to determine enhanced risk level of cancer (link to article):

Scientists have found new gene variants linked with the age at which females experience their first menstrual period and the onset of menopause, which can even help in preventing breast and endometrial cancer and osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. the researchers have identified 10 genetic variants in two chromosomal regions associated with age at menarche (the first menstrual period), and 13 genetic variants in four chromosomal regions associated with age at natural menopause.
The researchers explained that an early onset of menarche and later menopause are well-established risk factors for the development of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. On the other hand, early menopause increases risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Previous studies have suggested both menarche and menopause may be partially under genetic control.

Research: Drug based on herbs lower risk of getting prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is a diseases that affects a significant portion of men, with the chance of getting prostate cancer getting higher as men getting older. It has been recommended that older men go in for regular medical tests to make sure that they are not at early stages of prostate cancer. In a recent drug trial, men who had an increased risk of developing prostate cancer were administered the drug, and it was found to be effective in some cases (link to article):

A novel herb-based therapeutic called Zyflamend has been found to be linked with minimal toxicity and no serious adverse events in men at high-risk for developing prostate cancer in its phase I clinical trial.
"Since we know that men with HGPIN have an increased risk for developing prostate cancer, new strategies formulated to decrease cancer risk, prevent or delay surgery, and improve quality of life, will be greatly beneficial for these men," said senior author of the study Dr. Aaron E. Katz, an associate professor of Urology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The researchers say that basic science studies have suggested that Zyflamend may have an anti-inflammatory mechanism of action, and the agent has been found to be effective in decreasing the proliferation of prostate cancer
in cell culture.

Cancer research: Cancer patients prone to depression

Cancer patients have been known to have higher chances of having depression, to the extent that many medical facilities provide counselling along with cancer treatment. It has always been accepted that cancer treatment and the pain resulting from the disease leads to the patient feeling depresses; of course, treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy with stiff side-effects can also cause more depression. However, a study has determined that the cancer actually produces chemicals that lead to depression (link to article):

"Our research shows that two types of tumour-induced molecules, one secreted by the immune system and another by the stress axis, may be responsible," said Leah Pyter, a postdoctoral fellow and lead author of a paper. "Both of these substances have been implicated in depression, but neither has been examined over time frames and magnitudes that are characteristic of chronic diseases such as cancer," she added.
The results also showed that the rats with tumours had increased levels of cytokines in their blood and in the hippocampus (the portion of the brain that regulates emotion) when compared with healthy rats. Cytokines are produced by the immune system, and an increase in cytokines has been linked to depression. The team also found that stress hormone production also was altered in rats with tumours. The rats with tumours also had dampened production of the stress hormone corticosterone.

The study has been conducted in rats so far, but the fact is, if a study can conclusively determine that cancer does indeed medically lead to depression, there will be a greater focus on emotional counselling during treatment, something that should help the patient.

Cancer research: A gel that prevents skin cancers

Increasing level of sun exposure has been shown in the past to be related to an increased risk of developing skin cancers, and is the reason why the increase of the hole in the Ozone was supposed to result in more skin cancers and health problems. It is also the reason why there is an increased focus on skin creams and sun-blockers for those who have a much higher exposure to the sun. But there are problems with unprotected higher exposure to the sun. Sun spots have an enhanced risk of developing into skin cancers if untreated. Now an Australian company has come out with a gel made from radium weed sap that removes sun spots (link to article):

Peplin, the Queensland-based pharmaceutical company, says that its gel can remove sun spots, which can develop into invasive skin cancers if left untreated. Dr. Peter Welburn, General Manager of the company, has revealed that human trials have shown that the gel can treat sun spots and lesions in just two days.
According to him, the gel successively removed every sun spot on 27 per cent of patients, with 44 per cent having partial success. "This is the first product that has demonstrated benefit in treating sun spots on the face, neck and difficult areas to treat like the arms and back of hands,’’ quoted him as saying. He, however, conceded that the gel did not treat melanomas.

Nature has many cures present through either plant or animal extracts that can help in treating cancer; it is just about science being able to find them and developed them commercially.

Research: Exposure to pollutants ups cancer risk

Environmental pollution has been blamed for a number of things, such as global warming, changes in weather patterns, and for a number of health problems such as lung problems, skin problems and so on. Cancer is at a very high level defined as the abnormal behavior of the cells of the body, and has a variety of causes such as breakdown or mutation in DNA, hereditary reasons, and so on (as an example, people exposed to a number of carcinogens such as asbestos, high radiation levels, and so on). Environmental pollution was less blamed for this problem, but a recent study shows how pollution levels can affect DNA within a period as low as 3 days (link to article):

Exposure to environmental pollutants even for a short period can prompt genes to undergo reprogramming, and thereby increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer and other diseases, say Italian scientists. "Recently, changes in gene programming due to a chemical transformation called methylation have been found in the blood and tissues of lung cancer patients," said investigator Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, assistant professor of Applied Biotechnology at the University of Milan.
"The changes were detectable after only three days of exposure to particulate matter, indicating that environmental factors need little time to cause gene reprogramming which is potentially associated with disease outcomes," said Baccarelli. "As several of the effects of particulate matter in foundries are similar to those found after exposure to ambient air pollution, our results open new hypotheses about how air pollutants modify human health.

Even though environmental pollution is a reality we all live with, seeing this kind of reaseach increases the impulse to control and restrict such pollution levels. Fortunately, the research does indicate that this impact is reversible.

Analysis: Cancer drug linked to brain virus that proves fatal

Rituximab is a popular drug that is used for treating brain cancer. Rituximab is the most important and widely used cancer drug for lymphoma. It is also approved for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and is widely used off-label to treat multiple sclerosis, lupus and auto-immune anaemias. However, a recent study seems to indicate that the drug is linked in some way to a fast acting and fatal brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalitis (PML). The infection causes the brain to degenerate, and can cause death. The study does not conclusively link the drug to the brain infection, but should seed the ground for further studies to determine this linkage (link to article):

A brain biopsy and a spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis of a swiftly moving and often fatal viral brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalitis (PML) that attacks the brain's white matter. Both had lymphoma and had been taking the popular cancer drug rituximab (brand name Rituxan) before they developed the brain infection.
Bennett reports on 57 cases from 1997 to 2008 in which patients with anemia, rheumatoid arthritis or lymphoma developed the fatal brain disease after taking rituximab. They died an average of two months after being diagnosed, said a Northwestern release. Bennett said the brain infection is often overlooked and undiagnosed because it is so subtle at first. "People may think it's early Alzheimer's disease or depression," he said. "Many of these patients have cancer and when they die, people assume it's the cancer that killed them."

It is useful for people having brain cancer to know more about the impact of the drug.

Woman ends her life after husband scolds her for cold dinner

Life is a precious gift, but sometimes people squander it for any reason. Who would have imagined that scolding (even if it was very harsh scolding) by her husband would have led to the wife ending her life. Consider this case in India where when the husband (a truck driver) came home from a trip, his wife served him cold dinner; at this point the husband flared up and scolded her badly (and the article does not mention it, but could have also done some physical abuse). At this the wife committed suicide (link to article):

On being scolded severely by Jitu, Anuradha seemed shocked. "Jitu told us that she went in the kitchen saying she would get hot chapattis for him, but did not return," said police investigators.
After some time, Jitu went inside to hunt for his wife and found her hanging with a saree from the ceiling. He raised an alarm and later lodged a complaint at Vastrapur police station. The couple had been married for two years.

This is shocking.

Mom arrested for neglecting 555 pound baby

Being obese has its own health problems, with diabetes, heart problems, liver, back problems and numerous other problems. For the case of people who are very obese, the terms is called 'morbid obesity' and requires urgent medical attention in order to reduce the weight and improve health. In cases such as these, the health of the patient is supreme and may require forceful medical attention; when you balance that against the obligations of the parent, then there can be conflicts. Consider the case of this lady whose son now weighs 555 pounds, and she has not been getting him the attention that he requires (link to article):

South Carolina authorities have located a 555-pound teenager and his mother, who faces a charge of violating a custody order, police said Thursday. The mother is being held in a detention center and will be extradited to South Carolina on an outstanding warrant, he said. "The understanding was that the individual was of the weight where it was decided by medical authorities that he needed treatment that was not being provided for by his mother," Armstrong said. Earlier in the day officials said the boy "is possibly at a stage of critical health risk."
Gray was supposed to appear in family court Tuesday with her son and failed to do so, the sheriff's office said. During the family court hearing, the boy was ordered into state custody because of medical neglect, as well as his mother's failure to appear. The Department of Social Services then contacted the sheriff's office, authorities said.

For a teenager, the parents bear a lot of responsibility for their well being and need to take this condition seriously.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


In a small town, a person decided to open up a brothel, which was right opposite to a church. The church & its congregation started a campaign to block the brothel from opening with petitions and prayed daily against his business.

Work progressed. However, when it was almost complete and was about to open a few days later, a strong lightning struck the brothel and it was burnt to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, till the brothel owner sued the church authorities on the grounds that the church through its congregation & prayers was ultimately responsible for the destruction of his brothel, either through direct or indirect actions or means.

In its reply to the court, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection that their prayers were reasons for the act of God.

As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork at the hearing and commented:

'I don't know how I'm going to decide this case, but it appears from the paperwork, we have a brothel owner who believes in the power of prayer and we have an entire church that doesn't.'


10. "You want to use the fitting room or try this on at my place?"

9. "Check it out -- this one's good for hiding body parts"

8. "You know how we can offer such low prices? We're connected to the mafia"

7. "Try our new scent -- it makes you smell just like Regis"

6. "Last night after work I got lucky on this couch"

5. "Can I take a picture of your feet for my web site?"

4. "I live in a dark, greasy space under the escalator"

3. "For today only, you can pay for your purchases with hugs"

2. "Have you seen a chimp in boys' overalls?"

1. "If you're interested, I sell the same junk out of my van, half-price"


1. While flipping through channels, catch a glimpse of men's underwear ad. Feel instant and overwhelming desire for sex.

2. Find partner. Begin undressing self and partner.

3. Wait a minute: What's going on? Partner is kissing you not on nipples but on lips. Guiding your hand away from lower regions and toward shoulder. Oh, right, now you remember. Foreplay.

4. Kiss and touch, kiss and touch. This is making you feel incredibly hot, while it seems your partner is still just warming up to room temperature.

5. Attempt to find "magic button" that will make your partner as turned on as you are. After much groping, finally think you locate it. Rub it. Rub it hard. Stop only when you notice partner's attention has drifted back to TV.

6. Offer to give oral sex, your third most favorite sexual activity. There is a chance that this may lead to receiving oral sex, your first most favorite sexual activity.

7. Spend 23 minutes on the giving end. When your partner finally seems enthusiastic enough to want to reciprocate, find that you're forced to stop after two minutes for fear of the entire encounter ending right there.

8. Almost "forget" birth control.

9. Now it's time for your second most favorite sexual activity. Okay, it's in. Thirty seconds later, attempt to train your mind on the antiorgasmic image of the boy who peed on the school bus in third grade. Then, despite your best efforts, your mind returns to Matt Damon, and the school bus turns into a huge, rocking iron bed.

10. Your partner seems excited now. Very excited. Is partner having an orgasm? You can't quite tell. But who really cares, at least at the moment. Your body is being tossed skyward as if by a volcano and that howl of joy just might be coming from your own mouth.

11. Check surroundings. Yes, good, you're still in the same room.

12. Grasp partner's hand and say how great the sex was.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Top 10 Children's Books Not Recommended by the National Library Assoc.

10. Clifford the Big Dog is Put to Sleep

9. Charles Manson Bedtime Stories

8. Daddy Loses His Job and Finds the Bottle

7. Babar becomes a Piano

6. Controlling the playground: Respect through Fear

5. Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence

4. The Boy Who Died from Eating All His Vegetables

3. Things Rich Kids Have, But You Never Will

2. Let's Draw Betty and Veronica without their clothes on

1. The Care Bears Maul Some Campers and are Shot Dead


Any similarity between you and a human is purely coincidental!

Are you always so stupid or is today a special occasion?

As an outsider, what do you think of the human race?

I'd like to kick you in the teeth, but why should I improve your looks??

At least there's one thing good about your body. It isn't as ugly as your face!

Brains aren't everything. In fact, in your case they're nothing

Careful now, don't let your brains go to your head!

I like you. People say I've no taste, but I like you.

Did your parents ever ask you to run away from home?

If I had a face like yours; I'd sue my parents!

Don't feel bad. A lot of people have no talent!

Don't get insulted, but is your job devoted to spreading ignorance?

Keep talking; someday you'll say something intelligent!

Don't you love nature, despite what it did to you?

How would you like to feel the way you look?

Hi! I'm a human being! What are you?

I can't talk to you right now; tell me, where will you be in the next 10 years?

I don't want you to turn the other cheek; it's just as ugly.

I don't know who you are, but whatever you are, I'm sure everyone
will agree with me.

I don't know what makes you so stupid, but it really works.

I could make a monkey out of you, but why should I take all the credit?

I can't seem to remember your name, and please don't help me!

I don't even like the people you're trying to imitate, if you are at all.

I know you were born silly, but why did you have a relapse?

I know you're a self-made man. It's nice of you to take the blame!

I know you're not as stupid as you look. Nobody could be!

I've seen people like you, but I had to pay admission

Naval joke: make sure that the captain is abroad

A young ensign had nearly completed his first overseas tour of sea duty when he was given an opportunity to display his ability at getting the ship under way. With a stream of crisp commands, he had the decks buzzing with men and soon, the ship had left port and was streaming out of the channel.

The ensign's efficiency has been remarkable. In fact, the deck was abuzz with talk that he had set a new record for getting a destroyer under way.

The ensign glowed at his accomplishment and was not all surprised when another seaman approached him with a message from the captain.

He was, however, a bit surprised to find that it was a radio message, and he was even more surprised when he read, "My personal congratulations upon completing your underway preparation exercise according to the book and with amazing speed. In your haste, however, you have overlooked one of the unwritten rules -- make sure the Captain is aboard before getting under way.

Joke: No full service

The young woman sat in her stalled car, waiting for help. Finally two men walked up to her. "I'm out of gas," she purred. "Could you please push me to the gas station?"

The men readily put their muscles to the car and rolled it several blocks. After a while, one looked up, exhausted, to see that they had just passed a filling station.

"How come you didn't turn in?" he yelled.

"I never go there," the girl shouted back. "They don't have full service."


1 1/2 cups multi grain rotini pasta, uncooked
1 small bunch broccoli, cut into florets
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 cup fat free reduced sodium chicken broth
2 oz cream cheese, cubed
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta as directed on package, adding broccoli for last 3 min. Heat a skillet. Add chicken and cook until no longer pink. Stir in broth simmer until chicken is done. Add cream cheese, cook and stir until melted. Stir in 1/2 cup mozzarella. Drain pasta and broccoli. Add to chicken mixture, mix lightly. Spoon into a 8" square baking dish, cover. Bake 15 min. or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake uncovered until melted. LET STAND 5

Makes 4 servings


1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups self rising flour
1 tsp butter rum extract
1 cup chopped pecans
Confectioners sugar, for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13x9x2" baking dish with cooking spray, set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add sugar, eggs and flour to saucepan and mix until blended. Stir in butter rum extract and pecans. Pour into baking dish and bake 25 min. or until done. Cool completely, dust with confectioners sugar.


Makes 24 bars.


2/3 cup sugar
3 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch cinnamon
4 egg whites, room temp
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 squares 1 oz each semisweet chocolate, chopped

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with foil. In a bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa and cinnamon. Place egg whites into another bowl. Add the cream of tartar. Begin beating egg whites until foamy, add sugar mixture, then beat until medium stiff peaks form. Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe onto baking sheets. Bake 1 hour 15 min. DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR OR MERINGUES MAY COLLAPSE. Turn off oven, let meringues sit in oven 1/2 hour, then remove baking sheets from oven. Remove cookies to cool completely. Place semisweet chocolate in a microwave bowl. Microwave 1 min. then stir until smooth. Transfer to a plastic bag. Snip off a corner. Transfer meringues to a sheet of wax paper. Drizzle with melted chocolate. Let dry completely.


Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Patenting of genes: Cancer patients raise protest

Imagine getting a test based on your genes that can help you determine whether you are at increased risk for ovarian cancer. Now you get a postive test, and given that a cancer is a pretty serious illness, you would like to get a second option, a second test from a different company so that you can be sure (and getting a second opinion is a pretty normal step when dealing with medical issues). However, there is a problem in this area - the US Government allowed a single company to get a patent on 2 genes that are associated with an enhanced risk for breast and ovarian cancer, as well as testing related to this risk. Now this patent is being challenged (link to article):

When Genae Girard received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006, she knew she would be facing medical challenges and high expenses. But she did not expect to run into patent problems. On Tuesday, Girard, 39, who lives in the Austin, Texas, filed a lawsuit against Myriad and the Patent Office, challenging the decision to grant a patent on a gene to Myriad and companies like it. She was joined by four other cancer patients, by professional organizations of pathologists and by several genetic experts.
“With a sole provider, there’s mediocrity,” said Wendy Chung, the director of clinical genetics at Columbia University and a plaintiff in the case. Chung and others involved with the suit do not accuse Myriad of being a poor steward of the information concerning the two genes at issue in the suit, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, but they argue that BRCA testing would improve if market forces were allowed to work.

Getting a patent on a gene has been debated for long; let us see how this patent challenge proceeds.

Quick article: Great Barrier Reef (Australia)

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 3,000 kilometres (1,600 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. The Great Barrier Reef supports a wide diversity of life, and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN has labelled it one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust has named it a state icon of Queensland.
A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which helps to limit the impact of human use, such as overfishing and tourism. Other environmental pressures to the reef and its ecosystem include water quality from runoff, climate change accompanied by mass coral bleaching, and cyclic outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish.

Map on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

A few blogs on the Great Barrier Reef: wrote:

Much of the reef is also protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and through these protection efforts, many of the vulnerable and endangered species that make the reef their home and are in fact endemic to the reef system are protected as well. Among these animals are thirty known species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, six species of sea turtles, salt water crocodiles, the Irikandiji jellyfish, the giant clams, and various fish species. These animals call the reef their home year round, so be on the lookout it may be the only time that you will ever be able to seem them outside of a marine theme park. wrote:

Some of the most interesting things that can be found in the ocean are coral reefs. The largest coral reef in the world is the Great Barrier Reef, which is located off of the coast of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is in the Coral Sea, which is situated just off of the coast of Queensland in northern Australia. It is made up of 3000 separate coral reefs and 900 different islands, which stretch to a length of 1616 miles. The Reef is often referred to as the largest living organism in the world, although in reality, it is actually made up of many, many tiny organisms; each of these is known as coral polyps.
Another of the great things about the Great Barrier Reef is its age. Although scientists believe that the Reef is built on the remains of another coral reef that dates back at least 18,000 years, the current Great Barrier Reef can only be dated back 1000 years, which can be dated by analyzing the species of boulder coral that makes up this Reef.

Man in US jailed 83 days for missing jury duty

The United States has a system of justice that depends on jury trials for a large number of cases, based on the belief that a citizen should be judged by a jury constituted of 12 of their fellow citizens, and it is these citizens who can be depended upon to deliver a judgment. A condition of that is that every citizen can be called for jury duty, and it is only those who can show some sort of valid reason who are excluded from being on the jury. However, it was shocking when it was found that a person was jailed for 83 days for avoiding jury duty (link to article):

A man arrested for allegedly failing to appear for jury duty was released on Saturday after spending 83 days in jail, a length of detention that a judge called "unacceptable." Douglas Maupin was released a day after The Dallas Morning News brought his plight to the attention of a Collin County judge.
All American citizens and permanent residents are required to report for jury duty from time to time to supply potential jurors for court cases. District Judge Chris Oldner said he was unaware of Maupin's detention until Friday, even though the case was assigned to his court. The judge who signed the original 2003 warrant had retired, and officials said the case was assigned to the court of his replacement but the offense didn't fall under that court's responsibility.

This is part of the blind nature of the legal system. Maupin was caught as part of an earlier warrant issues in 2003 and when caught for speeding, this warrant showed up and he was jailed; further, he could not afford the bail amount.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Problems with depending on cloud computing

In recent years, we are being sold on the total promise of cloud computing, or to be on a much simpler level, storing our data on sites on the internet and depend on internet applications for a lot of their work. Some examples of these are using Google Mail, Hotmail, Google Docs, Online Maps, Online photo sharing and storage. Corporations also depend on applications running off the internet such as Salesforce, Google Apps, etc. In fact, the entire concept of Software as a Service (SAAS) depends on companies basing their primary business applications on 3rd party hosted apps. We are now at that stage when companies no longer have a backup for these services; consider your own case - when you save something on Google Docs, do you also have a local copy of that data ? Do you have a backup way of running your business when the internet app goes down for whatever reason ?
Most companies now depend on these hosted services / data storage being always available. After all, if you are a photo storage company and depend on customer photos being stored on Amazon's S3 service, the service better be always available. If the service even goes down for a couple of hours, that is a time when your customers can no longer access their photos, and would not be a pleasant experience. Now consider the recent case of Google services being unavailable for a few hours due to a traffic jam at one of its data centers. This means that services such as Google Analytics, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, and so on were unavailable (link to article):

Google has apologized for yesterday's service outage that left 14 percent of its user base without Google's wide variety of online services for a few hours. Google said in a blog post the outage came down to a simple traffic jam at an Asian data center. Well, a quick look at this graph from the Web security company Arbor Networks shows a canyon-sized hole in North American Internet traffic during the G-outage. With a wide variety of practical services like Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, Calendar, and even Google search gone, online activities came to a standstill for many people during the Google blackout.
Just how smart is it to depend on a company to store all your data online? Some smaller storage companies have even gone under without giving users a chance to collect their precious bits and bytes. Canadian photographer Ryan Pyle told Spring how he lost more than 7000 edited and retouched images after the storage company Digital Railroad abruptly shut its doors last year.

Leads to 2 problems - with many companies operating on wafer thin margins and in a recession, there is a greater chance of many companies disappearing. If these companies were in the service of either data storage or app hosting, then customers will be hit when these companies go down. In some cases, when the disappearance is sudden, then customers may be hit with data loss.
In the second case, it may be possible that a company does not go down, but operations are hit for some time due to some technical issues, planned downtime, or even hacker attacks. Customers dependent on them will need to suspend activities during such a period.

Friday, May 15, 2009


While on a road trip, an elderly couple stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. After
finishing their meal, they left the restaurant and resumed their trip.

When leaving, the elderly woman unknowingly left her glasses on the table and she didn't miss them until they had been driving about twenty minutes. By then, to add to the aggravation, they had to travel quite a distance before they could find a place to turn around -- in order to return to the restaurant to retrieve her glasses.

All the way back, the husband became the classic grouchy old man. He fussed and complained and scolded his wife relentlessly during the entire return drive. The more he chided her -- the more agitated he became. He just wouldn't let up. To her relief, they finally arrived at the restaurant.

As the woman got out of the car and hurried inside to retrieve her glasses, the old geezer yelled to her. 'While you're in there, you might as well get my hat and the credit card!'

Festival celebrating roadkill

Food festivals are different the world over, with different cultures all over the world, and different cuisines. Let me ask you this - how many of you have heard of roadkill ? You know, the case where animals such as deer, snakes, squirrels, possums, get killed by speeding vehicles and can be found on the side of roads. How do you combine the two ? Ugh - what a prospect. But there is a food festival where the food is essentially supposed to be based on roadkill, and this festival is so popular that hotels and motels are booked in the city when it is supposed to happen (link to article):

Thousands of people converge on the small town of Marlinton, West Virginia, each fall for a feast whose main ingredients were unlucky enough to crawl, slither or lurk too close to a speeding car. "There are some that are better than others, but I've never really had anything that I really didn't like," Cain said. "But there was one year they cooked a rattlesnake in some kind of stew, and ... there was no way I could taste that one."
About 10,000 people from all over the country came to last year's gathering, Cain said. All dishes featured in the festival must have animals commonly found dead on the side of the road -- such as deer, squirrels and snakes -- as their main ingredient. But the meat doesn't have to be actual roadkill.

I certainly don't want to be the judge for such an event, but it does seem to be incredibly popular.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Humour - Wedding Jokes - One liners by the famous.

The best way to get most husbands to do something is to suggest that perhaps they're too old to do it. (Ann Bancroft)

I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage.
They've experienced pain and bought jewellery. (Rita Rudner)

Keep your eyes wide open before the wedding, half shut afterwards. (Benjamin Franklin)

By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher. (Socrates)

A husband is like a fire, he goes out when unattended. (Evan Esar)
My wife dresses to kill. She cooks the same way. (Henny Youngman)

My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met. (Rodney Dangerfield)

A good wife always forgives her husband when she's wrong. (Milton Berle)

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury. (George Burns)

I bought my wife a new car. She called and said, 'There's water in the carburettor'. I said, 'Where's the car?' She said, 'In the lake'. (Henny Youngman)

I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life. (Rita Rudner)

Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight. (Phyllis Diller)

All marriages are mixed marriages. (Chantal Saperstein)

There's only one way to have a happy marriage and as soon as I learn what it is I'll get married again. (Clint Eastwood)

The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret. (Henny Youngman)

Humour: Warnings on labels

Frivolous lawsuits are great for devious lawyers and warning-label writers.

The Wacky Warning Label Contest, conducted by the
Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, celebrates both parties.

This years winners

4th Place: A five-inch fishing lure with three
steal hooks cautions users that it is "harmful if swallowed."

3rd Place: A warning label found on a
12-inch-high storage rack for compact disc
reminds purchasers: "Do not use as a ladder."

2nd Place: The label on one snow sled is very
adamant: "Beware sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions."

And the Grand Prize winner: Warning label found
on a bottle of drain cleaner: "If you do not
understand or cannot read all directions,
cautions and warnings, do not use this product."