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GEEK GAZETTE Spring ‘17 | Issue 17 COVER STORY : BEAUTY AND THE BYTE

INTERVIEW

Physics with Arnab Dhani

BIG STORY

The new face of propaganda

Association For Computing Machinery Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee


CONTENTS

05

15

30

The New Face of Propaganda

Snowballin’

Does Originality Have Value? “Cranky” Lubos

28

In conversation with Dr. Prateek Jha

16

Physics with Arnab Dhani

32

Mining the Sky

06

Beauty and the Byte

18

Yin and Yang

34

Don’t Destroy Our Libraries

08

“That’s fake news”

22

Looking at War

35

Vexing Vacuum

10

Pleasure of not knowing things

24

Designing Behaviors

36

The Good Old Days

12

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

26

The Scale Law

14


GEEK SPEAK While some wonderful things remain etched in memory, others need a refresh. We can’t forgot our childhood heroes, our favourite cartoons and adventure books, or our Super Mario gaming consoles. We only outgrow them. They come back to us in bits and images now and then when we rediscover old photographs or hear Twenty One Pilots wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days. They do make us feel better! With this issue of Geek Gazette, we’ve spoken out on a wide range of topics- from politics and Indian propaganda to cartoons, guitar gods and technology. From the eccentric Lubos Motl to the affable social media newsmakers, our intention was to analyse both through the lens of an inquisitive audience (since they interest us so much) and not come across as self-proclaimed wiseacres. With Don’t Destroy Our Library we reiterate the importance of having a historical sense of literature but in our own way. Books not only introduce us to the great thinkers of the past, they give us the power to alter that past as well. “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know. -T. S. Eliot Naturally by destroying libraries, our metaphor for what links us to that past, we lose more than just our present context. In Beauty and the Byte, we take a trip down the memory lane to the humble beginnings of video games and the growing appeal of 8-bit nostalgia. The student and professor interviews give us an idea of the interesting work going on in the campus. We thank Arnab Dhani and Prof. Prateek Jha for their time and contribution. The Scale Law and Mining the Sky introduce interesting facts and our article on originality puts up arguments of irrationality and emotion to understand why we value original artwork more than an excellent copy. The comic strip and geek puzzle add flavors of their own. There is, hopefully, something for everyone in here. We hope you enjoy the design and the articles as much as we did while creating them. Team Geek


DOES ORIGINALITY HAVE VALUE ?

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n a fine weekend, you decide to visit an art museum. When you reach there, you are astonished to see the minute details in the paintings and the hard work that the artist has put in to create it. You have marked it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience to stand in front of an artwork that was created centuries ago and has been passed on to and appreciated by dozens of generations. But by the end of the day, you see that there is a sign in a far corner of the museum which reads, “The originals are hibernating”, explaining that the original artworks are kept in temperature, light and humidity controlled storages so as to avoid any kind of damage. A feeling of disappointment wells up and you feel like you have been tricked into paying for a fake item while you were expecting an authentic product. But why does it actually happen? The artwork that you just saw is almost the exact replica of the real thing, the only difference is ― it isn’t original. But does it really matter? Does originality add any value to a product or an artwork? At this point, it completely becomes a matter of opinion, one might say that it would be a logical thing to see a replica that is close to one’s home instead of travelling over the world to see the original painting. If the copy of the art or the ‘reproduction’ is quite accurate and has got the same details as the original one, it seems like a totally rational choice to go for the copy based on convenience. While someone else could argue that the authenticity does have value as any piece of art is not just a composition based on perfect subject framing and beautiful strokes but also encompasses the idea, the passion and the struggle of the artist. A true appreciator of art would rather stand in front of the canvas and

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marble that first took the idea, rather than a similar looking copy. To see the how the genesis of the idea matters more than the end result, to know that this is the place where the artist stood waiting for the layers to dry, is a unique and worthy experience. The story of the city of Baucis can help us understand this better. Baucis is a fictional place described by the poet and philosopher Ovid. It rests on great pillars and is located far above the ground. The inhabitants rarely show themselves on the ground: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long pillars on which it rests. It is said that they respect the earth so much they avoid all contact so as to preserve it. They believe the earth is too sacred to be touched upon by them. Is anything really sacred or is it just the way we think? The point being, the residents of Baucis believe that by not touching the earth in any way, they could preserve the original value of the earth. But what’s the point of having something highly valuable if it is of no use to anyone? The same applies for artworks. Their value doesn’t lie in their tangibility, rather it is something beyond that. Perhaps we shall have to say that art is not an object so much as a shared experience between human beings; a connection between souls and between minds. It may also be considered as a shared medium for transferring ideas through generations. Its true meaning can only be left for individual interpretations. So far, we have no robots or artificial intelligences that "appreciate" art, as it is. It’s still a human thing, which computers do not understand. Not yet, anyway. 05


MINING THE SKY The human race is currently surviving on the Earth’s natural resources and there will soon come a time when these resources are exhausted. While we can look for renewable alternatives to our energy resources and synthesize our own materials to replace natural minerals, meeting all our resource needs with only this seems far-fetched and unrealistic. One field that is greatly unexplored and that can possibly solve or significantly reduce this problem is to go into space for resources. We already know that some of our nearby celestial bodies are very rich in certain elements that hold industrial and research value on Earth. For example, the moon, which is just 384,000 km from the Earth, is rich in Titanium, an element widely used in the aerospace industry and also in the field of biomedical sciences as an important component in prosthetic joints. As humanity embarks on its mission of using space as a resource pool, there are some serious hurdles that it faces.

Technological Constraints: The technology that we have for exploring space right now is unimaginably expensive. The equipment needed to get a mining station setup on a certain planet or asteroid weighs tons and it currently costs $2700 per kilogram to lift objects to Low Earth Orbit (around 600km) with a reusable Falcon 9 Rocket from SpaceX. At present, these technological constraints make space mining unfeasible; the resources that would be spent on sending the mining equipment into space severely overpower the resources that can be generated. Insufficient Funding: The space organizations of various countries are severely underfunded. For example, NASA’s funding has been cut from about 2% of the federal budget around the 1970s to 0.5% at present. When we add the problem of insuicient funding to the scenario of technological constraints, sky mining begins to seem like a distant dream.

Even so, scientists have devised ways of mining asteroids. As is common knowledge, the Earth and the asteroids are just floating around in space. So, instead of sending mining equipment all the way to the asteroid’s original location, asteroids can be brought into lunar orbit which is closer to Earth. This can be achieved by a robotic probe that could anchor to an asteroid which is made mostly of magnetic elements with simple magnets 06

or grab a rocky asteroid with a harpoon or specialized claws and then push the asteroid using solar electric propulsion. For asteroids too big for a robot to handle, a large spacecraft could fly near the object to act as a gravity tractor that deflects the asteroid’s trajectory, sending it toward Earth. There exists a company called Planetary Resources Geek Gazette


which is a Washington based asteroid-mining company. They deployed their first spacecraft from the International Space Station in July of 2015 and they aim to launch a series of increasingly ambitious and capable probes over the next few years. Planetary Resources and another company, Deep Space Industries, aim to help humanity extend its footprint out into the solar system by tapping asteroid resources (Both outfits also hope to make a tidy profit along the way, of course). This ambitious plan begins with water, which is plentiful in space rock known as carbonaceous chondrites. Asteroid-derived water could do far more than simply quench astronauts’ thirst. Scientists say that it could also help shield the ship from dangerous space radiations and, when split into its constituents, hydrogen and oxygen, it would allow the spaceships to refuel in space. This harvesting of basic resources from asteroids seems to be possible within the next decade. The real treasure, though, lies in the Platinum group of elements. Lots of asteroids are seemingly rich in the Platinum group of elements. The asteroids contain these in quantities of more than 100 ppm. The ore mined on Earth has concentrations of about 5 – 10 ppm. This entails a 10 to 20 fold increase in production of these precious metals from the same amount of ore. The

challenge here lies in bringing the ore down to Earth safely without it getting disintegrated due to the heat produced due to friction of Earth’s atmosphere, and in transporting the mining equipment to space. As of now, this seems very farfetched as we don’t possess the technology to send huge mining equipment into space efficiently or to bring the asteroids down to Earth safely. New technology is being developed rapidly, but it will take time for it to get to a safe and usable scale. For example, the solid form of hydrogen was recently synthesized in small quantities and has the potential to be a very efficient rocket fuel. It takes tremendous energy to create solid hydrogen, so converting it back to its molecular form will release immense amounts of energy. This energy would allow humans to explore the outer planets of our solar system and would certainly be enough to get our mines to the asteroids. This could possibly be commercialized within the next 40-50 years. The mentioned time spans could be shortened significantly if we promote collaborative and funded research oriented towards mining asteroids and planets. This would promote more people to enter the field and propel humanity into the far reaches of the solar system, making it an interplanetary species. This, certainly, is an exciting future which we can look forward to.

This ambitious plan begins with water, which is plentiful in space rock known as carbonaceous chondrites. Asteroid-derived water could do far more than simply quench astronauts’ thirst, scientists say that it could also help shield the ship from dangerous space radiations

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DON’T DESTROY OUR LIBRARIES

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t the age of twenty, already a charismatic and decisive leader, Alexander harnessed the Macedonian forces that his father’s reforms had made into the premier military power in the region. With the most formidable military expedition ever to leave Greece, he conquered magnitudes of land from the Persian islands to India in a span of eleven years. He built a number of cities on his route, which were not difficult to locate because he invariably named most of them, Alexandria, after himself. The Alexandria in Egypt became a major center of learning in the classical world. Under the rule of Alexander, who gave the city it’s common language Greek, the city sprang into cultural eminence attracting scholars, scientists, philosophers. The library of Alexandria, was considered to be one of the largest and most significant libraries of 300 B.C. Over the centuries, great thinkers of the age from all civilizations came to exchange ideas. As many as 9000 manuscripts filled the shelves of the royal library. However, during the Roman occupation, the library was burned down by Julius Caesar who came to occupy the city. In one of the greatest tragedies of the academic world, the library was lost to history. Perhaps we cannot gauge the true extent of destruction because we have not

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seen it in it’s true context. Nearly twenty years later, the appearance of empty shelves and burned scrolls excited regret and indignation in the people whose minds could finally see beyond the murk of political prejudices. It is remarkable that conquerors, in the moment of victory or in the unsparing devastation of their rage, have destroyed the literature and national records of the preceding ages. Christians, from their hatred of the religion of Jews and Pagans, have destroyed their books. The story of Caliph Omar, who proclaimed throughout the kingdom that the Koran contained everything which

Nearly twenty years later, the appearance of empty shelves and burned scrolls excited regret and indignation in the people whose minds could inally see beyond the murk of political prejudices. was useful to believe and to know, and he therefore ordered all others books to be annihilated, is one of many such examples. The fear of destruction induced many to hide manuscripts underground or inside the walls. Thousands of plays, prose, and compositions of

Geek Gazette


ancient geniuses, were irretrievably lost for the amusement and instruction of triumphed cultures. T.S.Eliot in her book The Sacred Wood said that in order to move forward, it often takes to look at the past, which allow us to know more than what our predecessors did. Her concept of tradition and culture foregrounds how important older writers are to new contemporary writers. Ruination of literature and culture basically destroys this link to an important part of the past, the traditions that develops in us the essence of youth and newness. Rad Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 presents an authoritarian society where books are outlawed. The title of the book signifies the temperature at which books burn. Fahrenheit 451 was developed out of a series of ideas Bradbury had after learning about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Horrified by the Nazi book burning, the author was certain about the vulnerability of literature to censure and destruction which became the theme of his book. Ironically, this book was banned in many schools in the United States.

fault of a private individual as the society and its norms. A person who is unconscious of oneself and the social milieu, acts in a blind, instinctive way and is often fooled by illusions. Eventually, one has to be the sole creator and critique of his/her ideas, while realising that blatant disregard for reality can be dangerous. And that gives us something that the best of our ancestors did not have; the view of the world in it’s whole, the instinct to prevent ourselves from being persuaded by someone else’s prejudiced opinions, to form and contribute our own ideas and most importantly, the power to not let anyone else destroy our libraries.

Biblioclasm is not just a thing of past, or another plot for a science-fictional story. Despite the act of destroying books being condemned by the majority of society nowadays, people still participate in book burnings on small and large scale. Public burning of the copies of The Satanic Verses, a book by Salman Rushdie, took place in 1989. There was Joseph Stalin's campaign of political repression, the Great Purge, in which writers and poets, among many others, were arrested and often executed. Maybe it was never about a barbarian or an authoritarian society. Instead it’s the urge of humans to suppress ideas that they do not understand. Fahrenheit 451 is indeed a story about a world where books are outlawed, but it is also a tale about the value of intellect, the importance of information and thoughts to light up a mind. It is about creating your own repertoire of knowledge and not be swayed by mainstream media which tries to shape or rebuild your ideas. Bradbury's central message is that the loss of freedom is as much the Spring 2017

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VEXING VACUUM True vacuum state would redeine all laws of physics. There is no way of knowing what it would be like inside the “true vacuum” bubble.

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arth has been floating around in space for a little over 4.5 billion years. Multicellular organisms emerged somewhere over a billion years ago. And since then, life has existed and doubtless, will continue to exist for several decades. But even now, the fragility of our existence is something that is to be marvelled upon. Astronomers and scientists have been searching for signs of extraterrestrial life for the better part of the millennium, yet no definite evidence has been found. So how did life originate on Earth? The Rare Earth Hypothesis states that extraterrestrial life is an improbable phenomenon, and life on Earth is attributed to an extremely rare combination of astronomical and geological factors, termed the Goldilocks principle. Basically, this means that the Earth is orbiting the perfect star at the perfect distance, the habitable zone. The thousands of possible ways Earth could have been destroyed, yet the fact that life still exists is nothing short of miraculous. 10

The delicate threads life balances on are always at a risk of snapping. Events such as nuclear wars, super volcanoes, gamma ray bursts, or meteoric impacts are all possible scenarios for total annihilation. These calamities in their most horrible forms, are destructive enough to destroy the existing life on Earth, as well as wipe out any chances of life blossoming ever again. Supernovae, which are basically titanic releases of energy by stars at the final stages of their lives, are another series of inevitable events which lead to the destruction of most planets orbiting close to them. But none of the mentioned events are catastrophic enough to destroy the entire universe. The ‘False Vacuum’ hypothesis is an interesting theory that was brought up in a 2005 paper by Max Tegmark, an MIT physicist, and Nick Bostrom, an Oxford Philosopher, as a part of their investigation on global catastrophic risks. The theory states that quantum fields, Geek Gazette


which basically dictate fundamental particles such as electrons, protons and quarks, and govern how they interact with each other, are at any point of time keeping the universe at the lowest possible energy level. This lowest energy level fills our current definition of ‘vacuum state’ - a state where all fields achieve the maximum stability possible (Note that vacuum state has nothing to do with the vacuum of space, it is merely named so). However, the metaphorical black sheep The Higgs Field, is said to be metastable, which means that it can achieve an even lower potential than it is currently at if the right conditions are fulfilled. Several high energy astronomical events can trigger quantum

tunnelling through the energy barrier which keeps the field metastable. These events can lead to the particles careening over the barrier to a lower potential than which they currently occupy, leading to a shift of a tiny region of the universe to the ‘true vacuum’ state. The release of energy accompanied with this shift will cause other particles around it to undergo similar shifts, resulting in a ‘bubble’ of the true vacuum state expanding outwards at the speed of light. Why is this phenomenon considered a doomsday event? Because as this bubble expands outward, every object, every particle it touches would be eliminated from existence. Of course, this phenomenon hinges on whether the Higgs field is actually metastable or not. The Higgs field is responsible for giving objects their mass. As it changes its state to one where it has a lower energy level, the very Spring 2017

definition of the particles and the forces between them are changed. This in turn will influence the particles governed by various other quantum fields, and will ultimately lead to overcoming the standard model of physics, as it is superseded by the true model based on this new state of the Higgs field. The ‘true vacuum’ state would redefine all laws of physics, from intermolecular forces to how atoms bond with each other to form new compounds. And without chemistry, life - on Earth or otherwise - would become impossible. There is no way of knowing what it would be like inside the ‘true vacuum’ bubble. At this point, vacuum decay is only a hypothetical scenario, based on our current understanding of physics. If the Standard model of physics is correct, then by measuring certain quantities such as the mass of the Higgs Boson and the top quark, scientists can determine if the present vacuum state is stable or not. Recently, the mass of the Higgs Boson was measured by the Large Hadron Collider, and the values found were extremely close to the boundary for stability. However, for a conclusive answer, precise measurements of the top quark’s pole mass are required. A study in 2015 published in the Journal of High Energy Physics proposed that primordial black holes may act as nucleation seeds for vacuum decay, and if the theory that particle collisions can result in formation of mini black holes is true, then it is possible for the LHC experiments to trigger vacuum decay. But the authors of this study have also asserted that if such mini black holes could be created, then collision of cosmic radiation particles with planetary surfaces should also have resulted in their formation. From this, one may conclude that the probability of vacuum decay happening is really quite low. And even if one or more bubbles of death are rushing at the speed of light towards our galaxy, they might not even reach us because of the expansion of the universe. In conclusion, all we can do is wait and watch, and hope that the chances of this happening are miniscule and not something we will have to experience, ever.

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THE GOOD OLD DAYS


Squarepants or movies like Ice Age and Madagascar with their toddlers and preschoolers. The 90s were the times of the sponge who

Lives in a pineapple under the sea? Absorbent and yellow and porous is he! If nautical nonsense be something you wish... Then drop on the deck and lop like a ish! Ready?

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he 90s were the times of Spongebob Squarepants, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Teen Titans, Swat Kats, Captain Planet, Scooby Doo and several others of your favorite cartoon characters. They became an asset in the lives of the kids growing up in the 90s, providing not only comic relief but valuable life lessons as well. All of these different characters had a trademark emotional presence in the minds of their young audience, with some being intrinsically good and some simply and quite literally goofy in nature. All of these characters had an important narrative to tell and a valuable lesson to impart to children, following them very closely. No kid ever learns of those good trumps evil moral lessons for the first time in school or in grandma’s bedtime mythological stories. With the obviously bad cartoon characters always losing to the ones that are good, kids are exposed to the most fundamental life lessons through television first. Visual learning in the form of these shows is a vital aspect of a child’s emotional growth; everything from colours to cartoons influence how a child discovers the world. To them, the world is an interesting place, with so much to discover and explore. Cartoons play a significant role in engaging children, in inspiring them, piquing their curiosity and developing their sense of humor. All mothers around the world can testify to the times they shared the grandest laughter watching cartoons like Looney Tunes and Spongebob Spring 2017

While stand-up comedians work very hard to be ‘effortlessly’ funny, it is widely accepted that humor is simply a part of how someone sees life, a characteristic of one’s personality polished through learned behaviour. You can’t improvise a funny scene out of thin air, it’s usually something in the back of your head from a past experience (real-life or not). The one thing that the Indian system of education does not promote is the development of a sound sense of humor. We don’t learn the rules of improvisation or study satirical novels in school. Television shows is the only medium that tends to fill this necessary gap. It is unarguably believed that a good sense of humor is one of the most important human qualities, a necessity if you must say so. And a bit of humor in life always helps. It pulls us out of tricky situations, saves us a lot of avoidable embarrassment, makes other people laugh, forges friendships and philosophically and mentally cures almost all ills of life. A well-developed sense of humor promotes social reciprocity amid the people- your company matters. It leads to an exchange of opinions on issues that need to be discussed and resolved. It creates a good opinion about you in the people around you. Hence, it is of utmost importance that children be presented with media that stimulates them in a way that they learn to appreciate the humorous elements of the world that they live in. In this regard, people who grew up in the widely regarded as the golden era of Cartoon Network have a tremendous head start as compared to those who didn’t. With the evident decline in the quality of content in Indian television shows for kids, it can be argued that the generation growing up watching them is going to be wanting in some major personality parameters. You can compare yourself to a young sibling of yours for proof, if you’re confident. Or maybe not.

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THE SCALE LAW

10 times larger than usual has 1000 times its original weight, but the strength its legs can support is proportional to the cross sectional area of its bones, which is only 100 times its usual strength. As a result, King Kong can be expected to be 10 times weaker than a normal ape, and would probably break his legs if he took a single step. More practically, this principle tells us that larger animals have bigger bones relative to their body size; and explains why a mouse can fall off a cliff and survive, but an elephant's bones would be shattered by a fall of a few meters.

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The law also places a rough upper limit on how large animals can get - bigger animals face problems of excess stress on their bones and the requirement of a massive heart to pump blood to higher regions of the body. It is theorized that dinosaurs often approached these limits on size. The problem of how sauropods (herbivorous dinosaurs that attained lengths of up to 30m, and are the largest animals to have ever lived on land) sustained their circulatory system baffles paleontologists to this day, and it has been proposed that their hearts weighed up to two tonnes. Whales are an exception to this upper bound due to the buoyancy of water.

ad King Kong actually existed, his attempt to scale the Empire State Building would have resulted in his legs getting fractured. A real life Spider-Man’s attempt to emulate a gecko in scaling a glass building would fail miserably. Remarkably, both of these facts can easily be explained by an elementary law, using a simple scaling argument and order of magnitude estimate. First proposed by Galileo in 1638, the square-cube law states that if we vary the size of an object while keeping its shape (or relative dimensions) constant, its geometric properties scale differently, or more specifically, the volume varies faster than the surface area. This law might seem fairly obvious but it has a multitude of real world applications: explaining the size, shape and mechanics of organisms ranging from bacteria to blue whales and even dinosaurs. If we scale an object up with the same density, the object experiences larger forces (proportional to mass and hence volume), and consequently a larger thrust or pressure at the bottom (which can be shown to be proportional to area). This implies that bigger objects must endure much larger forces at their base, and are weaker as a result. This is the reason skyscrapers use steel in place of concrete (due to its higher structural strength); and why it gets harder to make skyscrapers taller beyond a point. The principle predicts the downfall of large Hollywood monsters - take King Kong for instance. An ape that is 14

Besides, the heat emitted by any organism is proportional to its surface area; however, the heat generated and stored within the body is proportional to its volume. Due to this, large animals lose heat slower than smaller ones. This makes clear why whales in polar seas are spherical in shape - since a sphere has the smallest surface area per unit volume; and also why elephants have large ears- not for better hearing but for better heat radiation. As it always is, popular culture tends to sideline science to make characters sell more, be it the mythical Kraken which would suffer from a distension of its blood vessels if it emerged out of the water or the miniature humans in Honey I Shrunk the Kids who would encounter problems with surface tension and a high metabolic rate. More importantly, we can find peace in the knowledge that if any aliens visit us, they’re much more likely to be our size rather than the giant creepy Heptapods from Arrival. Geek Gazette


SNOWBALLIN’ I

deas are powerful. This fact has been highlighted by writers and thinkers everywhere. There are some ideas that have changed the course of history and the way we perceive the world. The idea of democracy that was first clearly articulated by Plato. There have been great many instances where an idea created a revolution, be it in science, culture or technology. Ideas are indeed quite powerful, sometimes to an extent where subscribers of a particular ideology are willing to kill fellow human beings who disagree. While the immorality in killing animals or performing euthanasia remains debatable, no other crime has received universal damnation the way taking the life of another human has. To drive a certain ideology towards extremism and fanaticism, there are a few things that need to be done. The first step is to obliterate any opposition (if there is one), to erase other ideologies that stand against it. The biggest ideological and political blunders of human history have happened when a certain ideology was left unopposed for too long, allowed to take its course and condition its subscribers to extremism. If one is able to neglect the most basic human values in order to defend a particular cause, there’s not a lot

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he/she can’t be made to do in the name of that cause. These extremist views replace the totalitarianism they seek to dismantle. Democracies are the biggest playgrounds of ideologies. The fundamentals of Democracy include the competition among these ideologies to gather popular support and the subsequent subjection of criticism and change, to make them better. India is the largest democracy in the world, thus it prides itself in being one of the biggest and the most exciting battlefields of ideologies. As an ideal example of democracy to the world, it must protect the freedom of its members to choose the ideology they deem best. Are we truly setting an ideal example though? The criticism to government policies and to political ideologies is increasingly being equated with opposition to the institution and to the ‘nation’ itself. The organizational structure, strategic think-tanks and the highly effective publicity and propaganda mediums set up by the current ruling body of this country are undisputed. The opposition is scattered, disorganized and unclear about its objectives. While it is a great feat for the ruling party to have won

with such popular consensus all over the country, the possibility of this lack of strong opposition turning into some form of ideological extremism is quite scary, even if one believes such a possibility is bleak. The largest democracy of the world needs to churn its gears and come up with a competent opposition, be it a resurgence and restructuring of the past ruling party, or the inception of a fresh new opposition. The existing opposition can no longer keep banking on the regional minority community votes, now that the majority community vote has been unified at such a scale against them. They need to go through major structural and ideological changes, to provide a tougher opposition. A large number of people are willing to get behind them, if they are focused and competent in their job. Here’s to a hope that such a refreshed opposition will rise and India would prove to be again, an ideal example of power of democracy.

Geek Gazette

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IN CONVERSATION WITH

DR. PRATEEK JHA Assistant Professor

Chemical Engineering Department Dr. Prateek Jha is an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering Department. He can be regarded as one of the most student-friendly teachers in this institute. He is also the faculty advisor of Photography Section. We had the pleasure of interviewing him about his current research interests and his idea of education. Here’s what he had to say: Tell us something about your ield and present research ? I work on stimuli-responsive materials which are materials that respond to stimuli such as pH or light. These materials have applications in a variety of fields. I am particularly interested in the area of drug delivery. Using some stimuli present in the human body, for example, pH levels, we facilitate the release of a drug where we want it to happen. My expertise is more in the domain of computer simulations. We use molecular simulations to study these materials which involves quantum chemistry calculations, atomistic simulations, and also some higher level continuum and coarse-grained simulations. Do you think that the Chemical Engineering industry is tending more towards pure sciences than the engineering aspects like applications of reineries, process design etc? I would not completely think so; the refineries and the core chemical engineering still remain important and there are many fundamental problems that remain to be solved. Recent developments have built a bridge between fundamental science and engineering, nanotech being one of them. There was once a wide gap between what you can do in a chemistry lab and in a chemical engineering plant because the length scales were very different. Now, when we think about, say nanotechnology, then we are not thinking about very large systems, so there the pure sciences have become important. Nanotechnology is a highly interdisciplinary ield. Physicists, Chemical Engineers and Material Scientists are highly involved in this ield. What are some research and job opportunities in this ield that the students can look to explore? For research, we should not think of nanotech as a separate discipline but think more in a problem oriented way and look to utilize nanotechnology to solve our problems. On the job opportunities side, India has to do a lot before we could have research jobs for people who are interested in a particular field. As of now, we don't have many research-oriented jobs that emphasize on inventions. At the same time, this is a good opportunity to have new startups in this sector. I would say that, presently, not many jobs are present but opportunities certainly are.

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Geek Gazette


As far as we have heard, you are a very student-friendly professor with a keen interest in teaching. Do you feel that for the past few years we have focused a lot on becoming a better research institute where teaching has been forced to play second iddle? I have had this discussion many a time with different people including students and professors. The first thing is that the teachers, anywhere across the globe, are not trained in teaching. Also, nowhere does teaching abilities become a part of the selection criteria for a professor, it is generally his research that is taken into consideration. Adding to this point is the fact that there are no incentives for being a good teacher. All the promotions and accolades that we get are based on our research profiles. The second thing that is more true in the Indian context is that good teaching needs good feedback. What happens is, over a period of time, the classes become totally one-sided and there are no feedbacks from the side of the students. What are your opinions about the teaching feedback system present in IITR? Does it work and what are some ways in which we can look to improve it? There are only a few students who give honest feedbacks. Responsible feedbacks from students will call for more seriousness from faculty automatically. Apart from that, even if a faculty member has a poor feedback, given the faculty strength here, we can't ensure that he/she will not teach that course in the next semester. The questions that are present in the feedback form are quite vague and do not lead to either constructive criticism or genuine praise for the faculty. The comments section available in the feedback form is, more often than not, left empty. Also, feedbacks are often affected by personal prejudices of the students which concern matters that have nothing to do with teaching, for example strict grading. Do you think we fail as an educational institute since most of the students who enroll in undergraduate courses gradually lose interest in their respective ields? Students do not develop an interest in their fields in first place, losing interest becomes a different thing altogether. There is no way to screen students on that parameter (during admissions). In our country, there are few people who actually follow their passion. Even we are no exception to it. We also do not have awareness about engineering departments at school level. Another reason is, as I have heard from students, there are many ways to divert from studies in this campus. In first year, there is always a peer pressure to join campus groups. Often through this, students meet people who give them varied opinion about academics. Hardly anyone tells you that the discipline you are in is very interesting. At times, even the faculty members can be discouraging. Eventually, a student is confused as there are many sets of people telling different things. We have to change that narrative. Any advice for the students? One thing I would add is that a lot of people talk about undergraduate research. I support the fact that B.Tech. students should undertake research problems. The problem is that they often lack determination and persuasiveness. Initially, students show a keen interest, which they gradually lose as they do not want to do the dull parts. Research requires some initial work and reading, and you are working towards a very small part of the problem. There aren’t any significant results in a short period of time. So, students should rather take it as an educational experience and enjoy what they are learning, and not as a mean to discover or invent something quickly. Spring 2017

27 17


BEAUTY AND THE

BYTE


W

ith each successive generation of gaming consoles, the graphics become sharper and more realistic, the sound levels move up with surround sound, and game makers try to create multimillion dollar projects that meet the potential of the newer, more powerful consoles. But regardless of how far we've come in making games look incredibly realistic and beautiful, with huge leaps in graphics and the corresponding improvements in processing power there is still a demand for classic titles, the 8-bit style that harkens back to the time of Donkey Kong and Contra.

While the term "pixel art" is often used synonymously with 8-bit graphics, they are way different from each other. The term 8-bit doesn’t refer to any attribute of the graphics specifically, instead it is more about the processor used in the console. The number references the length of data words used by those processors. An 8-bit generation console, like the Nintendo Entertainment System, could display up to 256 colors at a time. Color depth and the size of the pixels were not the only attributes that were constricted by the low power 8-bit processors. These consoles also inflicted huge limitations on the type of graphics that can be displayed. The processor created two layers, one for the background, and one layer for sprites, which are the moving objects like King Kong and Mario. The Nintendo Entertainment System supported two sprite sizes, 8x8 or 8x16. Each of the sprite had its own palette which could have only three colours. The maximum number of colours that could be displayed in the background were also limited. These tight constraints in the 8-bit consoles led to ingenious tricks and workarounds. The Mario kingdom is one of the most popular example of video games of that era. Despite being the most familiar game, if one Spring 2017

really sees it, the home turf of Mario, Peach and Toad was really peculiar. The world had mushrooms, and evil mushrooms, flying green turtles called Koopa Troopas, and carnivorous plants coming out of sewer pipes. The design of Mario(the character) itself was eccentric with complete overalls, a baseball cap and a moustache that extended up to his chin. It seems like some of this bizarreness comes out of left field, but the creators had legitimate reasons for each of these nuances. In lieu of mouth that had to be animated, mario had a moustache. It was easier to differentiate between a nose and a moustache in an 8 by 8 sprite, rather than a mouth. Similarly, the baseball cap was easier to see than the hair, since Mario’s hair were the same colour as his eyes. The design for the bushes and clouds in the background was the same, with different colors because there wasn’t enough memory to create new object. In Mega-man, the character was constructed with multiple sprites to include more facial features and colours. The curious thing here is how all this creativity originated from working within the confines of a processor. There’s an artistry in taking these limitations and pushing it, filling the screen to create worlds where graphics had to be sharp, clear and communicative, especially without extending beyond a small grid of pixels. There are many reasons being touted for the rise in popularity of this diversion. One of the advantages of the older consoles was that the graphics and capability of the software was so low that designers had to do a lot with very little. Therefore, there is a huge focus on quality and clarity in pixel art, which isn’t as easy to recreate with the current, more advanced state of software. On a bigger scale, and on a cultural level, pixel art has evolved. It is no


longer seen as a limited interpretation of the physical world but has become a form in and of itself, satisfying more than just a wistful longing for a bygone era. Leaving aside the practical uses of pixel art, artists nostalgic for the style of work within video games from their younger years are excited to create illustrations, pieces of design and video games along the same lines. The people making games now were the ones playing them back when the only way to animate a character’s hair was by putting on a baseball cap on him. They go out of their way to make pixelated versions of things to capitalize on nostalgia. Nostalgia was originally seen as a serious medical condition affecting immigrants who missed their homeland so much that they broke down and often suffered from fatigue, melancholy, insomnia and irregular sleeping patterns. Hence, the word Nostalgia was coined from the greek word “Nostos” for homecoming and “Algos” for pain or longing. In the twentieth century, the perception of Nostalgia began to shift. Nowadays, Nostalgia is an yearning for past that while sometimes can be painful, but it also brings joy. This is really what nostalgia has come down to — the

desire to be made anew, to know that what happened in the past mattered and still matters. Consequently, Super Mario is not just about the acrobatic plumber and Nintendo’s clever game design. It’s not just the idea that this blocky way of interpreting the world is the best way. Instead, we’re comforted and feel connected by capturing the past in the form of art and this has manifested itself in our enjoyment of retro video games and the accompanying art in other mediums that goes along with it. The idea of positive nostalgia is inherently attractive, a call back to better times, real or imagined. What’s interesting is that we are nostalgic for a world interpreted through the constraints of a machine. One of the reasons we lap up nostalgia is because we crave self-continuity, because it boosts our self regard and social interconnectedness. But our willingness to consume nostalgia is mostly affected by the uncertainty in the present world. When the world is full of upheavals, the past provides us with the certainty of something that will never change. Thus it’s our own affection for an abiding and consistent life that we curl up in the coherent, artificial worlds of video games.

CROSSWORD

5

ACROSS 1.Academy

award for Good Will Hunting; Golden Globe award for Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and The Fisher King. 2.What was conceived by Satoshi Tajiri from his hobby of insect collecting?

2

DOWN

1

1.Guess the band- ‘Hello ,Hello ,Hello, How low?’

1995, this technology based on relativity became fully operational. 3.The youngest child in Seth Macfarlane's hit sitcom that’s been running since 1999. 4.Best known for his 1991 albums Use Your Illusion I and Appetite for Destruction, he is now a member of ACDC. 5.Where does Spongebob work?

3

4

1

2.In

20

2

Geek Gazette


Place new...

Flavour same...

REAL HYDERABADI BIRYANI A Family Restaurant

Veg

15% discount for IIT students Home Delivery Available

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Non-Veg


“THAT’S FAKE NEWS” E

lections, in our country of over a billion people, are nothing short of festivals. With awe-inspiring energy, extensive planning, and general public interest that transcends cultural differences and regional barriers, elections are the true celebration of democracy. Another fundamental characteristic that remains true with the nature of elections is that they evolve with time. The Public Relations (or PR) cells of political parties play a key role in this process by undertaking an extensive study of the ways in which people interact, feel and perceive things. Quite naturally, political parties have understood the important role that social media can play in today's politics. These organisations, around the world, are bringing social media to substantial use for propagating their ideologies. The idea of a better connection between the political parties and the voters seem to be beneficial for a healthy 22

democracy but the downsides that it offers are grave and cannot be overlooked. The basic difference between social media as a medium of information as compared to other conventional sources of information, such as print media or television, lies in its dramatically different structure. Unlike conventional sources, in the case of social media, there are no third parties involved which are responsible for investigating facts, filtering content and providing editorial judgement. With fake news articles getting as much, if not more, reach than genuine news from credible sources, they can be extensively used by political parties to sell their propaganda through the propagation of misinformation. Adding to the problem is the fact that on a social media platform, people are highly susceptible to becoming a part of ‘echo chambers’ that filters information according to their present beliefs. Through the intricate web of Liking, Sharing, and Commenting, Geek Gazette


social media websites filter content and pass only those information to the user that he/she already believes in. Conventional news pieces, on the contrary, are aimed at covering those aspects that are fact-based and opinionated, and which exhort the reader to critically analyse the information. A research paper authored by economists Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow talks about the critical role of fake news and social media in affecting the outcomes of the US Presidential Elections in 2016. Based on a sample space of over 1200 people, the paper predicts that almost 14% of Americans used social media as their primary source of news. Pro-Trump fake news stories were shared over 30 million times as compared to the 8 million shares received by pro-Hillary fake news stories. With such large numbers and a possible fake-news spreading infrastructure set up by the politicians

Making a claim that the General Assembly Elections of 2019 could be affected more by 'viral' Whatsapp messages than by the speeches of prominent leaders wouldn't be an overstatement. themselves, it would be imprudent to not consider the probable effects of fake news on any election that takes place today. Political parties in India have also caught up with this recent trend and have set up dedicated IT cells for their social media operations. The unique thing in India is that the parties are focusing more on instant messaging services such as WhatsApp instead of online websites like Facebook and Twitter. One possible reason for this is that the average Indian sub-urban/rural voter is hardly active on online social websites. Whatsapp, which is as easy to use as text messages has become the preferred choice for the not-so-tech-savvy voters and the politicians alike. Not only this, with these apps not necessitating signing in with a username, the constraints of being politically correct can be Spring 2017

conveniently ignored. Also the fact that anything shared through Whatsapp is not publicly indexed, tracking the source of any fake viral content becomes almost impossible. The political parties, till now, have been quite vocal in saying that their growth over such platforms has been fairly organic and that it is being used only for the purposes of information dissipation and discussions. Despite this, the possibilities of a targeted campaign aimed at promoting their propaganda can’t be disregarded. Making a claim that the General Assembly Elections of 2019 could be affected more by 'viral' Whatsapp messages than by the speeches of prominent leaders wouldn't be an overstatement. In our multi-dimensional country where religious sentiments are sparked and patriotic feelings are hurt even by inconsequential opinions, such media can be used to spark conflicts that might not necessarily remain limited to the digital domain. Messages which become, or aim to become, viral by gaining large number of shares or “forwards” are beautifully crafted to capture the attention of the reader. They sentimentally target the reader emphasizing on aspects that the reader is more than likely to believe. Another method through which messages gain huge popularity is by amalgamating the content with a dose of humour. Political jokes which target the opposition leader receive bulk sharing by the core followers of a given political party creating a malignant image of a leader to the point that it can’t be supported by bare facts. Considering all this, the final onus lies on us as a voter group to not believe everything that is coherent with our pre-existing beliefs.

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PLEASURE OF NOT KNOWING THINGS Penny: Not knowing is part of fun! Sheldon: “Not knowing is part of fun!” Was that the motto of your community college? (The Prestidigitation Approximation, Season 4 - The Big Bang Theory)

B

eing overwhelmed by the feelings that have never occupied any other Earthling ever, Dr. Sheldon Cooper couldn’t dare move his pencil anymore. Always fixated upon uncovering the unknown, Dr. Cooper once finds himself in a highly unlikely situation. He has finally formulated an expression that he believes will most probably yield ‘The Equation’ - one equation that explains the reality in its entirety. Would he attempt to work further? Would he attempt to bear the weight of putting the most exciting human pursuit to an end? Or would he deceive the very purpose of the pursuit of knowledge by knowingly keeping the humanity from knowing the most fundamental truth that could ever be known? Or would he uncover the ultimate truth and take away the thrill and excitement of knowing something entirely anew from all the generations to come?

One of the most influential Science communicators of our time, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, often says, “Scientists love mystery. We love not knowing.”. Since the sheer curiosity to know more and more about the universe lies at the heart of the whole scientific endeavor, it is very crucial for a scientific person to be completely honest with oneself and accept what one doesn’t know. Only with a readiness to accept what oneself doesn’t know, one can truly pursue the knowledge with a scientific viewpoint. Realizing that you don’t know something interesting is also tantalizing in itself apart from the fact that it prompts one’s mind about the fun to come and the excitements to be felt. It is the only time one can be driven by pure curiosity. On the other hand, the hatred and fear of not knowing things often leads to the pretense of knowing things that one doesn’t know. This raises some of the most vicious issues for an individual’s as well as humanity’s pursuit of knowledge. Most of the unscientific gibberish that one can find around oneself has its roots in this fear of not knowing things. Science has taught us that there is nothing wrong in not knowing but there is everything wrong in the pretense of knowing. It can’t be denied that the pleasure of knowing something is hardwired in the humans from the evolution. Knowledge used to enhance the probability of survival. This must have aided the humans to develop a pleasant response to the state of having knowledge. Due to this hardwired tendency to have a strong desire in the state of knowing things, it

However imaginary and farfetched this situation might be, it raises an interesting question that can be attempted to be meaningfully pondered upon without being too farfetched: What is it in the Science that the humans are more attached to? The promise of uncovering the unknown and being in a state of knowing something more or the very process of uncovering the unknown? 24

Geek Gazette


becomes one of the easiest tasks for oneself to drag oneself into the delusion of knowledge. It is a unique quirk of the modern human species that they want to pursue questions out of pure curiosity. And we have developed a very impressive ensemble of skills that protects us from us dragging ourselves into this delusion of knowledge. Science, as defined by Dick Feynman, is what we have learned to keep ourselves from fooling ourselves. The true acknowledgment of not knowing

DAISY BELL

something ensures oneself of not having been deluded. The pleasure of not knowing things, as of now, is not manifest in the human beings primitively but develops through a prolonged experience of oneself with the scientific endeavor. It might not be too farfetched to say that the pleasure of not knowing things is a unique feature of the evolution that is happening right now. It is the defense mechanism we have been developing against our tendency to drag ourselves into the delusion of knowledge. Thus, it seems that the pleasure of not knowing things is something that has to develop inevitably if one is fixated upon truly knowing things. The pleasure of not knowing and the pleasure of knowing are probably not contradictory but rather the different manifestations of the same underlying desire. The more evolved descendants of the homo sapiens sapiens can be expected to have this pleasure of not knowing hardwired into them! What a great time it would be to live a scientific life!

Year 2070..

Next set of bonuses on the art work of 2010s

Jeremy Paxman

For 10 points,identify the artists of these...

MEMES

Spring 2017

25


WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS

T

he cover of a rolling stone, ain’t the cover of a rolling stone” says John Mayer while he complains about the lack of role models for today’s musicians, especially guitarists. He says: “What a drag to say At least I still have yesterday To show me something I can be Play songs that I can sing Make me feel as I am free Someone come speak for me” Guitar heroes have been phased out of our pop culture. When we look at the landscape of mainstream music today we don't see iconic guitarists anymore. Prior to the rise of synthesizers and the origin of electronic music, popular music was filled with intriguing guitar riffs and solos that could raise you to new highs. 1960s and 70s were the times of guitar virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page. Subsequently, there has been a sharp decline in the 26

number of guitar-based bands, and one might wonder if the guitar will be soon relegated to another piece of history. Or has everything that can be done with a guitar, been done already? Popularity comes in waves. Instruments that were a colossal part of almost every genre of music in their time, eventually lose popularity to the next new sound. The harpsichord which was a very popular instrument in europe between the 15th and 18th centuries ultimately fell out of the public eye. A more recent example is the saxophone that rose to popularity in the early nineteen hundreds as an instrument that could project over a loud swing ensemble, it was then adopted by jazz musicians and eventually found a stage in rock and roll. Today, the sax is still a widely used instrument but its appeal is much more niche. This is largely due to the advent of the electric guitar which took over as the cool instrument on the block.

Geek Gazette


The way music has evolved over time is interesting to observe. Music can either progress down one path where the new generation builds upon what their forefathers have done or it can go down a completely opposite path for the new generation to try something completely different. To understand the state of the guitar today, it's important to look at the past, rewind to the 1960s which may have been some of the guitar’s most exciting years. We had musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton among others who redefined the capabilities of this instrument. They built on what the early rock and rollers and blues musicians had done and took this new, loud and fresh music to the forefront. The phrase ‘Clapton is God’ can be found spray painted around london at this time, something that is not likely to be seen for any modern day guitarist. It makes sense, the guitar was a fresh sound and its technological and musical boundaries were yet to be explored. This was exciting and it fueled artistic inspiration but now, some 50 years later, there isn’t much more room to explore. Also, the barriers of entry for the generation discovering guitar in the Nineteen Eighties were very high. A low barrier of entry is crucial for something to catch on. If something is fun and easy for people to get into, the popularity has a chance to explode. A beginner guitar student in 1980s, listened to Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Popular music back then had fairly complicated guitar elements and being able to play the songs required a certain level of expertise. The task was too daunting for a beginner who had just learned to shift between a couple of chords. Music in 1950s was much simpler to play. Master the 12 bar blues and the pentatonic scale and you can play most popular blues music. Learning to play popular and recognisable songs and being able to emulate one’s heroes is what motivates a beginner to keep learning. For a guitar student in 1980s, the role models were too difficult to emulate.

Spring 2017

This might be one of the major reasons behind the fall in popularity of the guitar. That's not to say there haven’t been some amazing guitar moments since 1990. When Slash stepped on that piano in 1992 for the outro of November Rain, one has to agree that it was one of the most iconic moments of that decade, John Frusciante played at Slane Castle with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2003 and Prince played an epic guitar solo in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. But it seems that these kind of moments have become less and less frequent to the point where they are almost extinct. The rap verse seems to have taken the place of the guitar solo in a lot of pop songs. Electronic music is on the rise and it doesn’t seem very likely for someone to come along with a totally fresh spin on the instrument the way Hendrix and Van Halen did. The internet and social media have made it possible for small communities of guitarists to thrive. There is a fair amount of brilliant music on the internet which went unaired on radios, many talented artists yet to be discovered. So, even if no songs from the top 10 billboard charts have a lead guitar element in them, with one click of a mouse we have access to the greatest guitar moments of all time. And as long as people out there have a way to come across the videos of Hendrix live at Woodstock, Stevie Ray Vaughan at Austin City Limits, or Blink-182 on the MTV Music Awards, there will always be another generation of guitarists.

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P

“CRANKY” LUBOS A

nd then, in 2007, he was forced to resign from Harvard. Hatred showered on him from all around the world. He returned to Czech and has kept his distance from the academia ever since. Who would have imagined that a physicist who co-authored a paper on the ‘Weak Gravity Conjecture’ with some of the most brilliant String Theorists like Nima and Vafa just a few months back would never publish a single paper ever again! Lubos has never held a university position since 2007 nor has he has published any paper either in any journal or on arXiv. In 1996, Lubos Motl, an undergraduate student at a Czech university which had no string theory group, published a paper titled “Quaternions and M(atrix) theory in spaces with boundaries” in the field of Matrix String Theory to which a Rutgers theoretical physicist Dr. Tom Banks responded, “I was at first a little annoyed by Motl's paper because it scooped me. This feeling turned to awe when I realized that Lubos was still an undergraduate.”. The paper scooped many other string theorists and Motl was invited to Rutgers University to pursue a Ph.D. with a full scholarship. In 1997, Motl published a paper titled “Finite N heterotic matrix models and discrete light-cone quantization” with one of the founders of String Theory, Leonard Susskind. Before he got his Ph.D. in 2001, Motl had published over 10 papers that have been cited over 650 times collectively. Lubos was invited to Harvard as a Junior Fellow in 2001. In the seven years that followed, until 2007, Lubos collaborated with some of the best minds in String Theory which included names such as Nima Arkani-Hamed, Andrew Strominger, Cumrun Vafa, 28

ω

David Kaplan, Sergei Gukov, and Robbert Dijkgraaf and produced results that could have possibly been the turning point of not only his life but also for some of his renowned collaborators. Some of his most influential work carried out during this time includes his papers on Twistorial String Theory, Quantum Gravity and Quasinormal Modes of Blackholes, PP Wave String Interactions from Perturbative Yang-Mills Theory, and the famous Weak Gravity Conjecture (with Nima, Vafa, and others). His brilliant and insightful work had made him one of the most promising and aspiring geniuses of Theoretical Physics. And then, in 2007, he was forced to resign from Harvard.

“Let me politely assume that your sentence has been just a typo.” - Lubos Motl (To Sabine Hossenfelder regarding her comment that capitalism is known to fail if left alone.) Lubos Motl, apart from belonging to the set of one of the intelligent minds of the 21st century, is also a radically conservative and fervent supporter of what he thinks is Science which includes Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, and Theory of Evolution but excludes the searches for Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics, Loop Quantum Gravity, and climate change. And here lies the roots of the abrupt end of his life in academia. A series of incidents that took place between 2005 and 2007 ultimately led to the resignation of Lubos. Lubos repeatedly used words “cranks” and “crackpots” for Lee Smolin (Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics) and Peter Woit (Columbia University), mainly in response Geek Gazette


to their critical remarks on String Theory. Lubos also ridiculed “The Trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin and “Not Even Wrong” by Peter Woit in the strongest words (on several platforms including the review section of amazon.com!) during a series of arguments between some prominent figures that is known as “String wars”, in which Lubos’s blog “The Reference Frame” played an important role. Considering how esteemed Lee Smolin is considered by some of the academic personalities, this did raise a strong lobby against Lubos. Lubos’s escalation towards his untimely resignation was vigorously favored by his non-defendable comments on feminism, homosexuals, Muslims, and blacks. This was unnecessarily catalyzed by some events at Harvard that were publicized by some as the exhibition of a racist behavior by Motl but were not probably an exhibit of the same. This includes the rage raised against Lubos for calling up the Police regarding a group of black students making excessive noise at Harvard. The rage was unjustified because Lubos has made it clear that it wouldn’t have mattered if the students had been white and that his reaction would have been the same. Under the pressure of some legit and other not-so-legit attacks, Lubos finally resigned from Harvard in 2007. Motl now identifies himself as a freelance String Theorist. He has continued writing his blog “The Reference Frame” with the tagline “Supersymmetric World from a Conservative Viewpoint”. In fact, it is the only source (except for his answers on the online Physics forum physics.stackexchange.com) to regularly listen to him as he has stopped publishing papers entirely. However, he still is actively engaged with string theory and the frontiers of research in it. One can find a detailed analysis of a large fraction of interesting papers on his blog within a few days of the publication of the concerned paper. One can also find his name lurking around in the ‘acknowledgement’ sections of many of the brilliant string theory papers. Lubos often offers interesting pre-events to many of the recent publications. It was “The Reference Frame” that first leaked the rumor about the LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves. Lubos has even claimed to have obtained some restricted proofs for the most ambitious conjecture of the recent times - ER=EPR (that says that Spring 2017

Lubos Motl

the pair of entangled blackholes seems to be connected through non-traversable wormhole) in his blog post defending the making of a short film on the conjecture starring Stephen Hawking and Zoe Saldana against the opinion expressed by a blog that ER=EPR doesn’t yet deserve to gain such attention in popular media. It is noteworthy that, in this blog post, Lubos freely praised Leonard Susskind (one of the authors of the original ER=EPR paper) for the amazing contributions he has made in the field of theoretical physics even if he has attacked a lot on Susskind regarding his growing beliefs in the search for Quantum Foundations and his intense leftist political views. But one also finds some of the most bizarre proposals such as “Airlines should sell Muslim-free flights” on his blog. A regular reader of “The Reference Frame” realizes that Lubos has become bitter but emotionally less vulnerable with time. Although many of the views and comments of Lubos can’t be justified, one must accept the void that Lubos has left in the 21st century String Theory research. The one question that this surprising journey of Motl raises is whether we are really ready to intimidate and terminate every entity who stands against any of the scientifically established truths and values — no matter how positively the entity might be contributing otherwise? If yes then the set of entities of such entities that must be immediately subjected to the cessation without any debate at all can’t exclude any alternative medicine center/healer, any religion, any religious leader (e.g., the Pope), or any religious monument (e.g., the Black Stone). Should Abdus Salam have been expelled from academia for being religious (and thus, unscientific)? Hypocrites, are we? 29


THE NEW FACE OF PROPAGANDA

M

elita Maschmann was born in Germany in 1918. On March 1, 1933, she decided to join the Bund Deutscher Mädel, the girls’ section of the Nazi youth organization. Before and during the Second World War, she worked in the high echelons of press and propaganda of the BDM, and later supervised the eviction of Polish farmers and the resettlement of ethnic Germans on their farms. Arrested in 1945, at the age of twenty seven, she was the ideal Hitler youth. In the perpetually vexed and discontent days of her teenage, she became an ideal target for the Nazi propaganda. Hitler needed Maschmann much more than she could realise. So strong was the sentimental appeal of Hitler’s self promotional campaign that a huge chunk of the population believed that he was doing the right thing and felt relieved and even fortunate to have had such a dynamic leader. Soon after her release from internment in 1948, Maschmann wrote a letter to a former Jewish classmate with whom she had had the kind of passionate friendship that is common among adolescent girls and whose mother and sister were captured and taken to the

30

concentration camp because of her reports. Maschmann, aware of the fact that it might appear as self-justification to her friend, wrote, “Even the element of fate in a person’s life does not dispose of individual guilt, I know that. What I hope, dare to hope, is that you might be able to understand—not excuse—the wrong and even evil steps which I took and which I must report, and that such an understanding might form the basis for a lasting dialogue.” The First World War saw the rise of mass media as a medium of disseminating news from the battlefield to the household. It was the first war which targeted intelligently produced government propaganda to the general public. Several European countries had little choice about going to war. As a result they placed immense importance on propaganda to justify the war to the people, to help promote recruitment into the armed forces and to convince the population that their sacrifices would be rewarded. One of the most iconic images of the war which has become a part of popular culture is the distinctive recruitment poster of Lord Geek Gazette


Kitchener’s heavily mustachioed face and intimidating finger imploring the British population that ‘Your Country Needs YOU’.

Stereotypes that were deeply ingrained in people were evoked publicly to justify Britain’s entry into war. Adolf Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf, argued the rather dubious idea that Germany lost World War I because of the brilliance of British propaganda, when in truth, German propaganda at the time was far more advanced. The pervasive use of propaganda by the Nazis is largely responsible for the word itself acquiring its present negative connotations. He was right about its fundamentals though. “The function of propaganda is not to weigh and ponder the rights of diferent people, but exclusively to emphasize that one right which it has set out to argue for.” (Mein Kampf, Chapter V1)

in the Western world. As circumstances change propaganda has a tendency to wear off. Every leader, political or otherwise, is intrinsically aware of this fact and, hence, needs continuous reinforcement and reiteration of his ideas. The ideas and concepts of the individual become secondary when a nation is at war but we are not at war today. Yet leaders everywhere continue to stay in power through propagandist activity. While dictators use radio and TV to manipulate illiterate people in conflict-ridden areas, democratic governments fabricate and circulate stories with a specific national ideology. They use material symbols (statues, monuments) and iconic figures to strengthen the sense of national identity by evoking patriotism. These figures might be real people having mythological overtones or be presented as national heroes. Two of the most overt and powerful symbols, which allow citizens to express their consonance with the state, are the nation’s flag and its anthem. It is a strange world for one who holds a different opinion or chooses to stay neutral on an issue that receives massive national support. They are often shunned as though they were anti-nationals. We have a choice to see the whole picture before taking a stand on any issue instead of believing in that one right sold by propagandists as per Hitler’s definition. Maschmann’s individual guilt in our case is no longer in contention for justification on the pretext that we have to answer a cruel fate’s calling. We may have to reconsider satisfying a false sense of social and national responsibility at the cost of individual beliefs.

Gullibility to propaganda is essentially dependent on its appeal to emotions of the masses and the circumstances that exist at one point. When the discontent in the masses (not the individual) is repeatedly addressed with carefully chosen facts and given a specific solution- a path along a new ideology- propaganda campaigns become popular and successful. Communist propaganda in the Soviet Union rose as a means to end bourgeois propaganda and had a universal appeal but was criticized

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PHYSICS WITH

ARNAB DHANI Department of Physics

Final Year, Integrated M.Sc.

Arnab Dhani is a final year student of the Int. M.Sc. in Physics program at Department of Physics, IIT Roorkee and is a researcher in the field of Theoretical Astrophysics. He is currently working on his M.Sc. thesis at University of Bremen, Germany. What made you interested in Science for the irst time? There was no single incident which tipped the balance of my interest in Science. It had always been present for as far back as I can remember. Though, whenever I look back, one event comes to mind which probably made me pursue physics. One day in my 11th standard, my English teacher called me to the front of the class and handed me A Brief History of Time saying that I would find it much more useful than her. After reading it, I had on some level decided that I wanted to understand it and would work towards that. I am still working towards that and I still do not understand everything written there. Someday, maybe I will. What are the areas of Physics that you have been working in? I have mainly worked in Astrophysics - AGNs, pulsar timing, gravitational waves, though I have spent some time on the relativistic 2-body problem and geodesics in a higher dimensional spacetime. Why astrophysics and not basic theoretical physics? My interests lie at the interface of theoretical physics, astrophysics, and cosmology, because of which, it mattered very little whether I selected astrophysics or theoretical physics. I could have chosen either and do the same work. Practically speaking, it is a lot easier to enter into research through the astrophysics front than through theoretical physics because in your early undergraduate life there is very little original work that you can do in theoretical physics. What have you been working on for your master’s thesis? What do you plan to do once you have got your masters? For my Master’s thesis, I am working on the full general relativistic gravitational timing delay for 32

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a pulsar orbiting a supermassive black hole. The immediate future would be to visit all my friends from school and go home and take some time off from academics. These 5 years have almost drained me completely. Then I will pursue my Ph.D. I have an offer from Penn State University, and I will most probably go there. Which area do you have in mind for your Ph.D.? I would like to move onto something purely theoretical now. There is a faculty in Penn working on theoretical cosmology with whom I would like to work with, though I would keep my options open and try out some other areas too. What is the reason behind pursuing a Ph.D. at a US university considering that it is heard that India has some excellent theoretical physics institutes? India has some excellent working on different theoretical aspects. For String theory, you have TIFR-Mumbai, ICTS-TIFR-Bangalore, and HRI-Allahabad which constitutes some of the best minds in the field. You have some very good people working on different aspects of gravitational waves in many institutes around the country. One reason for pursuing my Ph.D. at a foreign university is that I want the experience of working with people with different backgrounds and also visit some places. So for me it was not a question of going to specifically to the US but to some place outside India, preferably a place where the native language is English. We hear you have worked with Dr. P. Ajith, one of the co-authors of the famous LIGO paper and a recipient of the Breakthrough Prize. How was the experience? And what did you work on particularly? Working with Ajith is a really wonderful experience. He values yours inputs and wants to learn something from you, as you will learn lots of things from him. You have the academic freedom to try out your ideas. His insights are really deep and sometime I had to spend quite some time to understand what he meant. He would explain each detail to you if you do not understand and would not just relegate you to some postdoc thinking you are wasting his time. And mind you, he is really busy. I worked on a bayesian methodology to distinguish different population synthesis models of binary black holes using gravitational wave observations. Considering not many people work on Astrophysics at IITR, how did you manage to keep your interest alive? The Astronomy Club (or officially, Star Gazing Section) played a major role in keeping my interests alive. So did the Physics Journal Club. Till my 3rd year, both groups consisted of the mostly the same people and all of them were from Physics. So on some level, the working of both the groups were in sync with each other, and hence astrophysics. How would you describe the overall environment at IITR from a Physics enthusiast’s point of view? I wouldn’t describe it as remotely positive. The only reason I was able to make it through, and I am sure others will agree, is because of the Physics Journal Club where I got to interact with my seniors. We got together as this group who would discuss physics and enjoy physics. It always need not be equations and papers that you need but pure bakar with physics in it.

Spring 2017

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YIN AND YANG “The idea that...that all God's creations are perfect, perfect - so just to suggest that - that a tree it's - it's crooked and it's straight... it's strong and it's weak... is to suggest that - that God created something imperfect. They do however acknowledge it in people; we are vsinners, but we can strive to be good just not in nature itself I guess.”

I

Movie

Half Nelson (2006)

n a medial semi-urban area dominated by African-Americans and infused with narcotics, a drug addict in his early 30s finds pleasure in teaching history to his high school students. His inspirational offbeat methods have encouraged some of his students to pursue their University major in history. While it’s perfectly fine to be a contributor to education and shape children’s lives, his career choice is, in a way, a reflection of his personal life apart from being a disappointment to his father.

Genre

Drama

Starring

Ryan Gosling Anthony Mackie Shareeka Epps IMDb

7.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes

90%

0134

It is often said that the brightest people are also the loneliest. This is certainly true for the teacher, whose inability to form lasting relationships with women and absence of friends makes him spend most of his time with his students. He doesn’t have the greatest passion for basketball, but he takes off time to coach the girls’ team and gives his best so that they may win the inter-school matches. For a person who wasn’t accepted anywhere, who began to drift away from reality, a place of belonging and appreciation becomes his home. He, and his parents, know that the prospects of him starting a family of his own are bleak. He may never be a father, and while drugs and alcohol

may only fill the void till a certain limit, teaching and creating a difference in his students’ lives gives him the necessary sense of self-worthiness. While unlike poles attract, like poles may be attracted in a different way. When one of his phlegmatic students, whose father has left her and brother has been sent to jail for being a part of the drug business, finds out about his drug addiction, she doesn’t keep away from him. Instead, a silent bond is created- a friendship that transcends every relationship between a teacher and student- something that may remind people of a father-daughter relationship, or simply something that has come from the pain of an unstable man and a self-reliant kid. Dan Dunne and Drey’s relationship in Half Nelson portrayed something that is considered unconventional. While most stories revolving around racial elements involve a ‘white’ teacher trying to help out african-american students, Half Nelson portrays a story that embraces the ambiguity of relationships. The movie does have a certain political edge by including minor scenes of the students talking about the civil rights movement. More known for its brilliant performances than the story-line, this slow-paced movie is dark, hard hitting, and filled with emotions. Ryan Gosling fans are certainly in for a treat.

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LOOKING AT WAR “Rule number six: Everybody should have a car Rule number seven: All maids should eat at the table with the others Rule number eight: No old person should have to sufer Grandmother: But tell me how you'll arrange for old people not to sufer? Marjane: It will simply be forbidden.”

W

hen Marjane is informed about his grandfather’s arrest because of his political beliefs, she didn’t want to play monopoly anymore. She sits in a bathtub, trying to understand what it was like to be in a cell filled with water for hours. When she gets out of the tub, her hands are wrinkled, just as her grandfather’s hands had been in the water cell. The ten year old girl, who had previously been unaware of the political arena, tries to deal with the fact that her family members have been directly, and negatively, affected by the turmoil that Iran has experienced. Persepolis is a series of two autobiographical novels by Marjane Satrapi, that is illustrated beautifully through graphics. Marjane takes the readers through the journey of her own childhood. The story is mostly adapted from her life

01 Spring 2017

with some events altered or dramatized. The author gives a profound account of all her thoughts, insecurities and aspirations through every stage of her life using alternative tones of humour and seriousness to play with the theme of the books. Marjane or Marji, the main character of the book is a rebellious Iranian girl who experiences a rather eventful childhood and adolescence. Her relationship with a variety of characters including her father, mother, grandmother, her imaginary friend, an old man with a white flowing beard, and her uncle Anoosh, is described through various small events throughout her life. Through their lives, the struggles of Iranian people of the time are shown. Marji goes through various dilemmas- her views about the veil or the ‘Burkha’, her family’s decision to send her away from the chaos in Iran to study in Vienna and her friendship with Julie who unlike Marji, is quite ‘western’ in her mindset and is not prudish like herself. Throughout the books, Marji rebels against various social constructs and restrictions. While the first book gives us a child’s-eye view of the history of Iranian revolution, the second book tells us a more detailed account of the struggles that a young Muslim girl had to face in a foreign country like Europe. The black and white illustrations are quite simple, but do a great job in representing things which can’t be portrayed as easily through the use of words alone.

Author

Marjane Satrapia

Persepolis 2000 Goodreads

4.2/5

Persepolis 2 2004 Goodreads

4.2/5

Geek Gazette 35


DESIGNING BEHAVIORS T

he characteristic phenomenon of the past few decades has surely been the vast and quick developments in ‘technology’. If the world is to sustain the speed and intensity of this technological revolution, it is important to stop and analyse the history and the future of it. While the technological advances have been dictated and directed by scientific research in the past, the gradual saturation in the latter does not necessarily mean the same for its counterpart.

To cope up with the revolutionary pace in research, the development and design of the products based on the respective research has been hasteful. Many a times, this has led to a clumsy and inefficient product, and the whole speed and chaos meant that a large number of such products were not revisited and thought upon. To cite an example, airplanes were the sweet child of technology that humans were proud of, in the twentieth century. A vast amount of time and money was spent in R&D to improve cockpit designs. This meant a constant addition of features, buttons, screens and dials in the cockpit. By the time the mistake was realized, the cockpit design was a huge mess of jargons which was confusing and disorienting. The subsequent years were focused on making the cockpit layout smarter and minimal, so as to minimize the confusion and effort that accompanies flying an aircraft. Consequently, a lot of human errors and struggles, can be traced back to design flaws. The smart designs of the future, can be expected to develop smarter interfaces which result in better interaction between the product and humans. The potential for application of smarter designs is immense, from small daily-use objects to large industrial equipment. 36

There lies another reason to why improving the human-machine interaction has become imperative. Most of the soft sciences largely operate on the assumption that humans are perfectly rational and will operate in a way which maximizes the pros and minimizes the cons for them. But, by general experience, we know that this assumption is not entirely true. There are various behavioural factors which affect our daily choices. Behavioral Design Patterns is an emerging research field, which is concerned with how design of an object can shape, or be used to influence human behavior. Although we are not always aware of it, the way we interact with our surroundings affects our mood, our level of comfort, possibly even our body’s metabolism, and this is where design becomes important. Famous authors like Richard Thaler, with his book Nudge and Dan Ariely have done a lot of work to explore these regions of irrationality and the behavioural aspect of human nature. Speed cameras have been installed in areas that are prone to accidents. These physical cameras indicates the speed of the car along with a speed limiting sign. The system is not connected to any police office and there is no force on the driver to reduce the speed. However, the feedback of car’s speed acts like a trigger and thereby compels the driver to control the speed of the car. This is one such example where good triggers can lead to a chain of desired behaviors. Thus, it is evident that a true revolutionary potential lies in design and development in accordance to the behavioural aspects, which betters the interaction between humans and technology.

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Geek Gazette Spring 2017  
Geek Gazette Spring 2017  
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