Gravity Waves from Big Bang Detected!


Big news in Cosmology today of a landmark discovery.

From Scientific American:

“Physicists have found a long-predicted twist in light from the Big Bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called gravitational waves, researchers announced today. The finding is direct proof of the theory of inflation, the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a second after it was born. What’s more, the signal is coming through much more strongly than expected, ruling out a large class of inflation models and potentially pointing the way toward new theories of physics, experts say. “

In layman terms, this is robust evidence of an “echo” from the big bang which brought the Universe into existence 14bn years ago, and  it allows scientists to witness how the Universe came into existence. In other words, it is the very encouraging physical evidence for the theory of inflation. Think of it as ripples spreading outwards in water or waves crossing an ocean. These primordial gravitational waves will tell us about the first, infinitesimal moment of the universe’s history and its obvious expansion. Of course, these waves are not exclusive to the Big Bang, but are ripples in the curvature of spacetime which exist throughout space emanating from different sources (e.g. black holes, cosmic explosions).

The Guardian explains all these terms well here.

Needless to say this is fascinating stuff that promises to expand our understanding and reverence of the cosmos in brand new ways. Old questions will be answered, and new ones will be born. Old technologies will be improved, and new ones will be dreamt of. Einstein predicted all this way back in 1916 in his Theory of General Relativity and remained its sole untested prediction. It took scientists only 98 years to prove it. What a bunch of slackers!

Here is the beautiful moment Andrei Linde, one of the authors of inflationary theory and who in 1983 first described chaotic inflation, is told that his theory was correct 🙂


Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/inflation-theorist-andrei-linde-hears-bicep2-news-2014-3#ixzz2wFNkYl1A

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Gender Segregation is Wrong!


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Image Originally Posted a@ WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE by Jerry Coyne

I came across this article a few days ago on The Guardian website. It covers a hot topic issue that I mentioned in my coverage of the debate between Hamza Tzortkis and Prof. Lawrence Krauss.  In brief, that event was being held at UCL and was promoted as not segregated.  Unfortunately, the religious dimwits who set up the event chose to do otherwise, going against university policy, and invited the ire of Lawrence Krauss.

Here is his original reaction and answer when questioned on it:

The UCL ended up banning that Muslim organization from conducting future events on their premises. I think it serves them right for bringing their archaic views to a place of knowledge and forward thinking. Unfortunately, Universities UK didn’t get the memo.

Universities UK, the representative body for universities across the UK, has seen it fit to produce a 40 page document which, essentially, grants external speakers the right to demand audience segregation. In other words, speakers now have the right to demand that men and women sit apart. That doesn’t sound too maddening. What if a speaker asks black people to sit at the back so the white people have a better view? How about asking one religious denomination to not partake in a lecture because they eat pork? What if a speaker separated gay people from straight people? Where do we draw the line?

Here is the excerpt from Universities UK:

“…concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system”. If “imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

There have been multiple cases in the UK where such segregation has taken place, mostly at the behest of religious speakers. The problem here is that society in general is becoming too tolerant. We don’t want to allow ideas that could be seen as harmful or insulting to pervade the psyche of those we fear. Let’s keep everyone happy and not ask for trouble. Sadly, the trouble starts when you allows anachronistic ideas to gain footing because one party wants to honor and respect the wishes, no matter how ridiculous, of another. Really? Let’s be mindful of the religious beliefs of the speaker who thinks segregation is a bonafide idea? Fuck that.

On October 3rd (My birthday. Send gifts!), two Athiest students at LSE wore amusing t-shirts with a religious inflection to their message. The authorities (gung-ho campus security) was on them in an instant and they were told, not asked, to cover up their t-shirts for fear of offending others. So what? Fuck the others if they’re so offended. Life, and certainly hallowed halls of education, exist to challenge our notions and beliefs to create smarter, free-thinking denizens.

Here is a quote from the most gentle of gentlemen, Stephen Fry:

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

Let’s take a modern example: the world is fawning over how Malala has stood up to the persecution and violence that the Taliban have wrought on women in their campaign to keep them from the evils of education. Heck, she’s given speeches at British universities and been nominated for peace prizes. What if Malala was asked to sit apart from others for being a Muslim, or a women, at a university in the UK? I hope that you can see the point I am trying to make. She does not let anyone tell her that she cannot take part in education because of her race, creed, or gender. The fact that the representative body of institutions across the UK thinks it is ok for a speaker to do so is pathetic. Additionally, if you choose to partake in such a deplorable exercise, then you have already failed the first test of education and should stop wasting your parents money.

Once again, education is a supremely powerful tool. In fact, a lot of the bigotry and hate that has inflicted the world is because there is a severe lack of it in many corners of the globe. People resign themselves to the ideas and livelihood placed upon them by the cosmos or their families and leaders. That’s not how it should be. Personally, I hate the fact that religion is building a foundation in education across different countries. For instance, states in the USA are trying to get Evolution banned from being taught in school. Also, faith schools are cropping up in the  UK where admission is based on your religious beliefs and staff are forced to wear headscarves or something equally asinine. What’s even more beguiling is that they are 100% state-funded. Yup, your hard earned money is being used to fund discriminatory education practices.

Where did we go wrong? When did finding answers for ourselves and revelling in our differences and the world become such an intolerance? When did we halt our dissent of ideas that fail to advance the ideals of an equal and educated society? When did we stop giving a fuck and start sanctioning bigotry and assisting persecution? Tolerance is a dirty word, and the fear of offending sensibilities should not keep us from speaking our mind.

I hope that universities will choose to uphold the ideals which they were founded upon and rescind the farcical document published by Universities UK.  Polly Toynbee sums up my beliefs perfectly in her piece:

“My own view is that religion is like any other opinion and deserves to be subjected to the same challenge or mockery as anyone’s political views, with no special respect or forbearance. Universities are the anvils for hammering out these ideas, not for setting religious sensibilities above women’s rights, and beyond challenge, trumping all other argument.”

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Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg?


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It is a question that has haunted individuals and civilizations alike. Never before this has there been a bigger existential quandary to challenge the limits of the human mind. Today, I will put an end to this neverending pointless debate. Behold the answer!

OK, so it’s not really that big of an issue. Still, you would be surprised at the inane explanations some people offer to a question so ridiculously simple to answer for anyone who attended a Biology class. FYI – it wasn’t God or Colonel Sanders.

In reality a delightfully complex, but easy to understand, process known as Evolution is the hero to praise for all those delicious omelettes.  Popular Science sums it up nicely:

“Chickens, as a species, became chickens through a long, slow process of evolution. At some point, a chicken-like bird produced an offspring that, due to some mutation in its DNA, crossed the threshold from mere chicken likeness into chicken actuality. That is to say, a proto-chicken gave birth to a real-life official chicken. And since that real-life official chicken came out of its own egg, we can say that the egg came first.”

In fact, the quintessential image of an egg which we carry in our heads was in place long long before birds ever diverged from dinosaurs. Yes, in case you didn’t know, birds are the descendants of dinosaurs just like the elephant descends from the mastadons.

So there you have it. A simple answer for a simple question. Excuse me while I go make some scrambled eggs and ponder more scientific mysteries.

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OFFICIAL: Voyager 1 Has Left The Solar System!


Stop the presses!

Back in March, I posted a blog entry announcing that Voyager 1 was on the precipice of exiting our beloved solar system. Well, this past week scientists at NASA (gotta love those eggheads) made it official.

Voyager 1 has officially become the first man made object to escape the clutches of the solar system.

It only took the little spacecraft that could 36 years to cover the 12 billion mile- long journey. It’s sibling, Voyager 2, is 2 billion miles behind it. Moreover, the entire mission in 1977 cost $250 million. If we account for inflation, that is approximately $965 million today. If you ask me, that’s some seriously good value for money. It’s certainly better than the millions we spend on bombs that don’t provide any discernible value to humanity. These are the kinds of milestones which are truly inspirational and worth celebrating.

Here is how scientists, after much back and forth, figured out that Voyager 1 had boldly gone where no man-made object had gone before:

Here’s an image depicting the general path of Voyager 1:

Artist's concept of Voyager's distances

Here is something even more exciting. This is what interstellar space sounds like:

I don’t know about you, but I was expecting a lot more “pew pew pew!”. Still, it is fascinating. Just know that after you are long dead, Voyager 1 will continue to explore the cosmos as our emissary. It is currently headed for another star, which will take it 40,000 years. Of course, by then Voyager 1 will have perished and will be a floating beacon for other galactic civilizations.

I imagine that it’s message will be simple: We are here, and you are not alone.

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The Demographics of Rape


Yesterday , The Guardian published an absolutely fantastic article on the Indian rape case that enraptured an entire nation last December. In short, a group of men savagely raped a young woman on a bus and then proceeded to mutilate her with iron rods. The sordid affair didn’t end there. She was then dumped naked on the side of the road with nobody willing to offer any help. After a hard fought and heart rending battle for life in the hospital, she succumbed to her injuries.

As someone who is of Indian ethnicity, I have no particular affinity for India or any other country. I believe that our birth nationalities, much like the religions we are unfortunately born into, are a product of cosmic dice rolls. From there, we find our own way. However, social issues, such as the one highlighted by this despicable inhumane crime, interest me greatly because they speak of existence and the human condition that are so varied all over the world. More importantly, it is a way to glimpse a different culture and learn more about aspects of life we sometimes take for granted. As a humanist, I find all of these to be enlightening and edifying as they teach us more about ourselves, the world and the values that we  hold dear.

The Guardian article is an in depth look at a social and economic culture that very few understand.  Millions of people in India struggle to make ends meet, and the lack of opportunities can lead to these people making terrible life decisions.  For the most part, it is a patriarchal society outlined by corruption, poverty, caste systems and poor healthcare and education. This isn’t true for every Indian, but it is for a significant majority. This is a country vying for superpower status that has left millions of its citizens behind.

Here are some excerpts from the article as it maps the chain of events that led to this horrible crime:  

On the background of the two brothers Ram & Mukesh involved in the rape:

“But if life in the city was better than the brutal poverty of the village, the improvement was only marginal. After a decade, their father and mother returned to Karauli and the brothers stayed on in a one-room brick home, brutally hot in the heat of the summer, freezing in winter. Ram, a slim, dark, small man, married a woman with three children by another man. She died of cancer shortly afterwards without bearing him a child of his own. After her death, he started drinking heavily and fighting. When he drove his bus into a lorry, he damaged an arm permanently. “

On their behavior and image:

“Though they left local girls alone, the Singh brothers were known among their neighbours for drunkenness, petty crime and occasional, unpredictable violence. The younger brother, Mukesh, was personable, if impressionable, according to teenagers in the neighbourhood. “He was fine on his own but different when he was with his brother,” one said, speaking a few days after the incident that would make the pair, if only for a short time, globally infamous.”

“…in the vast northern state of Uttar Pradesh which has 180 million inhabitants and socio-economic indicators often worse than those in sub-Saharan Africa. As in rural Rajasthan, where the Singh brothers came from, women in the countryside of Uttar Pradesh suffer systematic sexual harassment and often violence. Rape is common and gang rape frequent. Victims are habitually blamed for supposedly enticing their attackers. Many are forced to marry their assailants; others kill themselves rather than live with the social stigma of being “dishonoured”. Police rarely register a complaint, let alone investigate.”

On how the men were representative of Indian society:

“The four men were thus all representative of a substantial element of contemporary Indian society. (The median age in India is 25, with two-thirds of the 1.2 billion population under 35.) They were semi-skilled and poorly educated, like so many other products of the country’s failing education systems. They were migrants from the country to the town – four of the millions of individuals who over recent decades have converted an almost entirely rural country into an increasingly urbanised one. They were unmarried in a part of India where men outnumber women and gender imbalances are worsening. They were drinking in a city known for high levels of alcohol abuse. There was nothing very extraordinary about them. Yet within hours they would commit acts that would prompt outrage across the planet.”

On the similarities between the victim and the perpetrators:

“One of the most striking elements of the Delhi gang-rape case is the similarity in the backgrounds of the victim and of her killers. The family of “J” – it is illegal under Indian law to name a rape victim – were, like those of her assailants, from close to the bottom of India’s still tenacious caste hierarchy.”

On the victim’s life ambitions:

“She had wanted to be a doctor, ideally a neurosurgeon, but opted instead for the more modest, and more affordable, ambition of physiotherapist and found a college in the northern city of Dehradun where she could qualify after a four-year course. To raise the 40,000-rupee annual fee, her father sold part of his land in his village and mortgaged the rest. To cover living expenses – a similar sum – J found a job in a call centre in the city.”

On the rape itself:

“Ram Singh first raped her, the girl kept shouting, and one by one all of us [raped her] and [Ram Singh] and the rest of us bit her body.” Medical reports reveal bite marks were found on the woman’s breasts, arms and genitals. J fought back, biting and scratching but the petite young woman had little chance…We tried to push our [penises] into her mouth. We also tried to [sodomise] her,” the juvenile later told police. His statement, corroborated by the account given by the victim to medical staff, does not mention the assault with the iron bar the woman described. Her medical examination – and the retrieval of two blood-stained rods in the bus – confirm that it was penetration by this that caused massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines…”The girl was shrieking and shouting so much. Ram Singh put his hand inside her and pulled out flesh. The girl lost consciousness and started bleeding,” the juvenile told police. Her friend later described how, naked and badly injured himself, he heard the men talking. One said that he thought “she was dead”. Another, possibly Thakur, suggested throwing them out of the bus.”

I’ll stop there. You can read the entire article, by Jason Burke, here. I strongly recommend it because it is eye opening and shocking. The good news is that these men have been caught. One of them, Ram Singh, hung himself in his jail cell, deservingly so I might add.  The others have been given life sentences, but the prosecution is pushing for the death penalty. The youngest rapist was given 3 years in juvenile detention. This last part is something that still irks me as a failure of the Indian judicial system. It was a moment for them to really step socially by making these animals pay dearly for what they did. Would you believe that their lawyer is going to appeal the verdict and claims they are innocent and part of a police conspiracy? Fucking disgraceful.

I would like to think that this will change things for women in that country. I highly doubt it as crimes against women continue to make the news. The victim’s family has been provided compensation by the government, but that does next to nothing to address the greater social instabilities and economic discrepancies that continue to percolate and torment the country.

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The Morality of Hacking


A couple of weeks ago The Guardian leaked sensitive information regarding common NSA surveillance practices. These leaks left the world reassessing the boundaries of privacy and ‘safety’.

With his disclosures, Edward Snowden became the man of the hour, reviving the excitement and curiosity for the hacking culture. As the world became stagnant, taking in every drop of information that was available; wondering if every dash of data leaked would flip the scale of privacy versus security. Would this become a revamped WikiLeaks 2.0? Will this be the latest version of uncovered ‘truths’ which the world has purposely chosen to remain aloof about?   In the name of national security, peace of mind and technological advancements, everyone has blindly agreed to the ‘terms and conditions’ attached to products, apps, social media websites, software and companies. But at what cost is this information made available? Who decides how this information is used? Who is entitled to access this information? In brief, what are the moral boundaries of hacking?

Before dissecting the decency of hacking, it is imperative to define it. According to whatishacking.org, “Hacking is the practice of modifying the features of a system, in order to accomplish a goal outside of the creator’s original purpose”. Why would anyone have the right to modify the default features of a system? More importantly who is entitled to make such changes? How are such privileges earned?

In order to answer such questions, it is essential to determine what motivates certain individuals to ‘hack’ and release information not designed for public consumption.

Public Enemy Number 1

What motivates hackers?

Some individuals and groups do it to truly help improve and solidify a system. These ‘good’ hackers test current systems in order to encounter –and fix- flaws. In fact, Edward Snowden was employed as an “Ethical Hacker”. Their job comes as a direct response to attacks from inconspicuous characters. These inconspicuous characters are ‘bad’ hackers that break into systems out of spite or simply because they can. Causing harm in order to boast their egos or benefit another party (whether hacking for the government or for corporations). There is a third group of hackers who do it as a form of protest, usually against a particular economic, social or religious policy (e.g. WikiLeaks). Thus, it can be said that certain hackers, much like other individuals, use their unique skill-set to attain fame, create disruptions, correct inequalities and promote their personal beliefs.

Nonetheless, are these factors enough to justify the abuses that are committed in the name of strategically and eloquently used nouns ‘justice’, ‘freedom’, ‘truth’ and ‘profitability’? Are these actions ever justifiable?

The Good, The Bad…The Gray

Given this is such a controversial topic, the definitions of good and bad may vary significantly. Since history is only written by those who are victorious and it does not take into account the narrative of the defeated.

The Bad:

North Korea and South Korea, war by means of hacking.

Three months ago a ‘malware’ known as “DarkSeuol” shutdown computers all over South Korea. More importantly the malware hit the financial heart of South Korea impeding menial yet critical services, such as withdrawing money from an ATM.  Many sources report the origin of the malware to be in China. Yet as reported in the New York Times, North Korean hackers honed their skills in China and operate from there. Last week, during the 63rd anniversary of the Korean War, several websites (including government and media) were shutdown in both nations. As a preemptive measure against possible cyber-attacks. Considering the thorny and gossamer relationship between these nations, is hacking justified in this context? At this rate, future wars will not come in the conventional sense (land and resources). But rather it will come in the form of a battle for information and exposing vulnerabilities in a country or military’s network.

The Good:

Several terrorist acts that have been stopped thanks, to government surveillance program.

For example the alleged Canada Day plot, was curtailed because the suspects were under government vigilance. It can be deduced that several other plots were stopped as a result of the invasive measures taken by government agencies. How many other terrorist actions could have been prevented if more surveillance was involved? Should freedom and privacy be the price of security?

As with anything in life, nothing here is black and white. Everything is a different shade of gray. Thus, every situation must be analyzed and treated as a unique instance. For instance, if consumers willfully agree to give up information, why is it a surprise when it is used against them? A healthy and conscious debate has to be encouraged in order to assess the price of freedom and technological convenience. It is time end users demand better management and protection of the information that is collected. Realistically no government will ever be able to handle such sensitive information in a transparent and just way. As consumers, it is urgent and imperative to pressure companies to exert more control on the information that is collected. If not, then they should educate themselves about how their information is going to be utilized. If they are not happy with it, then they should withdraw from giving up their information.

In the end, I have no answer in terms of the morality of hacking. I pass this question on to you. How do you define the trade-off between privacy and security?

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