Friday, May 30, 2008

Necessity Mothers Invention

image by jaylopez,

How A Simple Idea Makes A Difference

This is an inspiring story of a mother who got tired of asking her kids to, for their own sake, tone down the volume of whatever it was they were listening. Seeing that her shouting only hoarsened her throat and nothing else besides, she decided to do something more constructive. And how!

image from ingemicorp site

Christine Ingemi, the 39-year-old mother from Amherst, New Hampshire, researched on ear buds that would refuse to increase the volume of sound beyond a certain safe level, never mind what the input volume coming from the sound system is. Concluding that there wasn't such a product available at all, she simply went ahead and invented one for her kids.

image of Christine Ingemi

The entrepreneur bug bit her, of course. Realizing that there was money to be made, she applied for a patent, floated a company, anointed herself its president, got a website designed to promote the product, showcased her product in invention contests, and went to market.

image by blackcat,

The result? This mother's product has sold over one hundred thousand pieces all over US and Canada. The ear buds have won her the third prize in the "Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge", 2007. Enthused by success, finally having located the perfect mantra that gives professional acclaim, respect and moolah rolled in one, she has her sights set on new inventions already!

Must be heavy reluctance, to leave aside the tasks of home-making, the dusting and the mopping, no? And to have to jet to exotic locales and stand at the podium and deliver keynote addresses to hundreds of peers, and to clink glasses with business honchos who want to know about one's next idea...? Do the kids miss their mom's shouting at them, or do they mind her being away for long durations? No, they must be lapping up all the attention their mother is getting on the TV! Imagine them bragging about it in school!

image by juliaf,

We think inventing a new gadget or a widget or device is best left to the nerds or the geeks or the people who spend all their time in the libraries. You know, the ones who earn the creamiest scores in SAT and GRE and GMAT. Actually no, turns out that it is not the speed of the left brain's neural circuits that matters, but it is the creative idea of the right lobe that makes all the difference.

image by pzado,

Need not be as earth-shattering as creating electricity or designing the iPhone, too, in order to patent your invention and earn money. It could be as simple as designing lingerie for pregnant women, or designing a device that facilitates the mixing of a powder-form drug with a solution in a single syringe, or coming up with a better toothbrush... something that is so ingenious that nobody thought about it before!

image by shelene,

Wouldn't be surprised if one fine morning the news wires flash the press release about Ingemi Corporation, Christine's company, making an initial public offering, with the green shoe option please. Here's wishing you all the best, Christine! The point is that, if Christine can do it, so can you and I. All it takes is an idea, and belief in oneself.

image by svilen001,
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Friday, May 23, 2008

The Strange Case of Biofuel Crops

Diesel prices, wiki

Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward

This is like being caught in a cleft. On the one hand is the spiraling-out-of-control oil price, threatening to stop the engine of quite a few economies around the world. And on the other hand is the growing alarm about the negative impact of biofuel crops on environment; biofuel crops that were once hailed as the perfect, natural solution to our fuel needs are now suspect.

Soybean varieties, wiki

In their first gush of profound observations and statements using exotic terminology such as "well to wheels analysis" and "cradle to grave analysis", scientists told us that not only do biofuel crops work out cheaper than fossil fuels; they also are eco-friendly. Science drives economy, and so farmers around the world got busy chopping down forests and grasslands, and generally converting their real estate usage from growing food to growing biofuels. Governments put in place legislations that encourage people to convert to biofuel crops on mass scale. Now fields as afar as Guangzhou in China and Ahmednagar in India and Darwin in Australia are proud owners of exotic plantation such as jatropha., jatropha image

While the standing crop is still waiting to go under the harvester's thresher, comes another gush of analyses which say that no, no, no, these biofuels crops are not eco-friendly, that they will actually heat up the atmosphere and melt the poles, that some parts of the plant (nuts and leaves) are so toxic that farmers shouldn't touch them with bare hands, that they are susceptible to wildfires and therefore a huge risk to nearby populations, that the solution is worse than the problem it had set out to solve.

Biodiesel sample, wiki

Sigh. Sorry guys, but why don't you make up your minds once and for all?

image by sue_r_b,

While one set of scientists refute, point by point please, the claims made by the other set, we cannot but now wait till they have sorted it out amongst themselves. And while this goes on, airlines are either hiking ticket prices or curtailing flights or both, oil companies are rationing supply of fuels, the friendly neighborhood petrol pump keeps hiking the price of gas every twenty-four hours, and we are slowly and gradually descending into the Middle Age.

image by bradimarte,

It is obvious that there is something inherently wrong in the premise on which the biofuel theory is based. Isn't it time we turned our attention and time and money to some other mechanism which can help us generate energy as naturally as tiny plants do through their tender leaves? With our enormous brains and creativity, why should this task be so difficult?

image by scol22,

The X-Prize Foundation has recently announced a USD 100 million prize to any individual or team who or which can come up with a solution that can generate the same or better quantum of energy compared to an equivalent unit of fossil fuel, be cheaper, and also possess none of the eco-hostility of the traditional fuels. Let's hope it motivates the right brains before it is too late.

image by de_lima,
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Searching For The Elusive God Particle

Animation courtesy MSNBC

A Grand Physics Experiment Is Underway

During the physics class, it would amuse me no end when our lecturer would jot down a few equations on the board, and then proceed to tell us pompously how one equation followed from the other, "quite logically". For the life of me, I could never figure out quite how the logical progression happened. My more intelligent peers would nod understandingly, in a way that intelligent people nod when they hear something profound, which made me feel even more sheepish. It was much later when I replaced the word "logic" in his content with "empirical observations", that I began to understand the connection.

Image by MSNBC

Actually once you realize that entire science is based on empirical observations, and that scientists use them to formulate a set of axioms which you decide to believe in, then understanding all their gobbledygook becomes very easy. The trick is to be always aware what these guys construe as axiom and what they construe as hypothesis. The interesting part of the game is, that what was considered an absolute, irrefutable axiom till yesterday (remember that light was supposed to travel in a straight line?), becomes shaky today.

Image courtesy MSNBC

And these physicists are now seeking to create a toy for themselves. This toy is in the form of a pair of pipes being laid in a circle-shaped tunnel about one hundred meters underground between the borders of Switzerland and France. The tunnel has a circumference of 27 kilometers, and a diameter of 3.8 meters. So the toy is, uh, kinda huge. Goes by the fancy name of "Large Hadron Collider" too. Obviously somebody grew up on a diet of science fiction and Asimov. What the wise men and women will do with the pipes is to start a beam of sharply focused light in each of the two pipes. The beams, steady streams of protons bunched together, will be guided to travel in opposite directions such that they collide with each other at four points in the journey.

And pray what will happen as a result of the collision? The theory - or the hope - is that it will result in the creation of a special particle of mass that is heavy by subatomic standards. This particle is technically called the Higgs Boson particle, which a physicist in a particularly eloquent mood christened "the God particle".

Amazon Image, book cover by Leon Lederman

They say the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment seeks to recreate the early stage of the Universe's conception, you know, just as the crown was about to come out. The existence of the particle will be proved when the contraption's computers detect its decay. Not when it has been formed, but after having formed, when it begins decaying. How ironic. And what if its existence is proved? The scientists will pat each other on the back that their theory about God has been proved right. This queue please for the Nobel. And if its existence is not proved? Well, they will still pat themselves on the back on the theory continuing to remain to be proved. Tomorrow is going to be yet another day, and so yet another toy.

[The 'November 26, 2007' mentioned in the narrative above was the earlier date of launch of the LHC]

There are a few doomsday predictors who think the whole experiment might unleash something evil and macabre which might even gobble up the earth whole. Now haven't we heard this line before? In another age, another time?

We ordinary mortals really shouldn't mind these scientists and their toys. For it was their little games that gave us all these material comforts. You know, the bulb and the AC and the oven and the car and the TV and the computer and the internet and the cell phone and ... So what's a few billion dollars here and there?

image by evobrained,

The show is scheduled to begin sometime in June 2008. So take the ringside seat folks, get that popcorn bag and the Coke, and get ready for a face-to-face with this God particle! Hopefully we will live to tell the tale to the grandchildren.

image by criswatk,
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Depression And Women

image from NAMI website

Price They Pay For Their Special Position In The Universe

Whatever the outward poses and postures of men, it is of course agreed that women do have a special position in the universe. Everything would come to a standstill, wouldn't it, without them? Nature must not have had any hesitation deciding on which amongst the two genders be given the onerous task of carrying the race forward. And so Nature bestowed upon woman all the biological paraphernalia required to bring forth Life, and then rear it. And along with it, a liberal dosage of the right chemicals with which to execute the job smoothly.

image by biewoef,

Indeed, their strength it turns out becomes their vulnerability. The way she is structured, it is oh very easy for the woman to multi-task. And to assume more and more responsibilities with a smile. A job where the boss has set impossible deadlines, or which simply sucks but there is no alternative but to stay put. A spouse or partner who is looking for the next opportunity to bark and spite. Kids, if they are around, who demand their needs be met _now_, her own needs be damned. In the process of balancing everybody's wants and needs, in the process of tip-toeing through life without upsetting anybody's sense of comfort either physically or emotionally --- somewhere along the way, she begins to lose her own sense of identity. Her own sense of balance begins to vertigo. Her own sense of comfort - at both the physical and emotional level - begins to get compromised. The sad part is that all this happens silently in the background, without her becoming aware of it.

image by skaletto,

The result? NAMI, the "nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness", has recently brought out an e-brochure that gives facts that startle, but shouldn't be unexpected really. Women, it says, "experience twice the rate of depression as men, regardless of race or ethnic background." The document lists the causes for depression very lucidly: genetic, biological, psychosocial, victimization and poverty.

image by ralev_com,

Of the different intervention methods that the brochure outlines, the positive spin given to anti-depressants is disturbing. Wish the authors of the brochure were more aware of the side-effects of antidepressant medications. Here is one post where I have dwelt on the sense of unease amongst the researchers themselves about the drugs doing more harm than good.

image by mrbnatural,

As self-developer, the only solution that I can offer to anyone who is willing to pay heed, is to try the free-of-cost technique of auto-suggestion. This blog and my other blog have scores of posts about this technique. I guarantee that there are no side-effects whatsoever. And it works, if persevered with consistently.

image by elcho,

Perhaps the authors of the NAMI e-brochure might consider devoting, in their next version of the publication, a paragraph or two on auto-suggestion as one very good CBT under the section of "Psychotherapy".

image by oki975
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