Jul 13, 2008

Hey! There Are Cockroaches in my Chocolate Ice Cream! (Part 4/4)

At the end of the presentation, Dr. Schwarcz demonstrates a reaction where he reacts calcium carbide with water to produce flammable gas- acetylene. When a burning splinter was introduced through a tiny opening, an explosion in the flask took place. However, when the same experiment was repeated, by introducing a burning splinter in a tiny opening in the flask, the flask acted as a lamp due to absence of oxygen. The moral of the whole exhibition was that the same thing used for explosion could also be used as a lamp. It completely depends on the way one uses the knowledge one possesses.

The End :)

Hey! There Are Cockroaches in my Chocolate Ice Cream! (Part 3/4)

Later on in the presentation, Dr. Schwarcz introduced his firm and its objectives, which are to demystify science. He articulates that the firm has many goals that need to be achieved. Some of them include; keeping people up-to-date with scientific progression, fostering critical thinking, separating sense from nonsense and keeping people out of clutches of impostors. He speaks about the importance of communicating science, adding that there is a huge amount of confusing information roaming around the world. There are many information sources, confusing people on a daily basis.

Dr. Schwarz also added a lot of fun and hilarity to his presentation. The following was one way of showing that humour and at the same time scaring the audience. A person learns that eating fish is good for health as it contains omega 3 fatty acids, which is very good for the human body. The next day the person learns that farmed salmon is contaminated with PCBs. So he leaves the fish and goes to eat French fries. Yet again he learns that French fries contain high amounts of Tran’s fat, which is harmful. Switching his diet to meat, only finding that meat contains Dioxins. Eating buns is not safe either as baking those releases acryl amide, which is an animal carcinogen. Corn contains Lutein, which cannot be consumed either. Then that person learns that corn is genetically modified which makes him panic-stricken. However, there is no evidence that genetically modified substances have harmful effect; that is a concern due to illiteracy. Then the person opts for spinach. He finds out that latest studies show spinach containing E-coli 0157. Even drinking is not safe as just two glasses a day can increase the risk of breast cancer. Then, if a person wants to give up alcohol and drink water, tap water contains chlorine, forming trihalomethanes, which are carcinogens. He then goes to buy a filter, which contains polycarbonates, which lead to bisphenol A. If he gets bottled water, he may intake traces of antimony, behaving like arsenic. Then that person learns that toxins are not just in food items. Deodorants are responsible for breast cancer among females, hair dyes give rise to lymphoma and balloons contain nitrosamines. In conclusion to the whole dilemma, Dr. Schwarcz states that, “If you are hungry, thirsty, smelly, unkempt and bored, you will have a longer life”. : P

Dr. Schwarcz admits that all the above statements are true, but the dosage is not enough to cause the harmful effects. For example, apples contain Acetone and Formaldehyde. However, the traces are very small among the other contents. Carcinogens are everywhere; coffee contains six major carcinogens. Nevertheless, the amount is very low and inadequate to be harmful. Furfural contained in buns, is so little that a person need to eat 6000 buns a day to get enough harmful content. This does not mean low quantities are not harmful. Pituitary gland produces one microgram of hormone per day, which is adequate for the body. Another example is of a toddler who swallowed some beads of a toy and fell sick. The toy contained gamma hydroxy butane in small quantities, which was sufficient for its harmful effect. Even small amounts can be very harmful; but life is full of risks, there by, eliminating one cause with the other.

Jun 18, 2008

Hey! There Are Cockroaches in my Chocolate Ice Cream! (Part 2/4)

No, there really are no cockroaches in chocolate ice cream, but as it turns out, Dr. Schwarcz often speaks on the radio and one of his listeners misunderstood a concept about a certain food dye (now a days people would believe anything).

Dr. Schwarcz has some fascinating insight into the public's perception of science. Though not to draw any similarities between him and Carl Saigon but he is also one of those scientists whose most commendable work doesn’t happen in the laboratory but in the public sphere. They distill science to a level where its just right for the consumption by the general populous.

Though unlike Carl Saigon, where the Cosmos was his subject of interest, Dr. Schwarcz has an interest in consumer goods ranging from nutrition, medications and cosmetics to pesticides. His highly visual and entertaining presentation examined some serious as well as some frivolous experiences in dealing with the public perception of these things. The presentation also emphasized the importance of fostering critical thinking.

Sitting in this lecture was more like watching an episode of myth busters, here are a few highlights from the lecture that I found interesting:

1- sales people make a remarkably surprising claim that water filter removes the chemicals from the water and makes it pure and drinkable. For this claim, electrodes were set up in a glass of regular drinking water. Passing electricity turns the water yellow, which was due to the presence of harmful chemicals. However, filtered water formed no residue. To disprove his theory, when common salt was added to the water, the yellow residue was back. The filter removed all the minerals present in the water, reducing its conductivity. The addition of salt helped water conduct electricity to react with the electrode made of iron. The residue formed was simply ferric hydroxide, a good supplement of iron for the body. The water filter did not, by any means, purify the water but it took away the minerals present in it.

2- One of the widely selling products through Internet, the footbath, claims to remove toxins from the body. These toxins are said to be responsible for problems, like arthritis, joint pains, kidney and liver function, circulatory disorder, fatigue and irritability. In veracity, when looking at the real picture, the footbath is following the principle of electrolysis. When plugged in, the colour of water changes to yellow, by ferric hydroxide reaction, due to presence of iron electrodes. The relationship between magic and chemistry was shown by a simple demonstration. An unknown chemical was engaged in a Styrofoam cup as water was added to it. The water solidified to become artificial snow. From this demonstration the presenter wanted to prove that people jump to conclusions before analyzing the facts, representing scientific illiteracy.

3- As mentioned above, Mr. Schwarcz used to come on radio, answering peoples misconceptions regarding science. Once, he received a question on Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP). A lady found this chemical in her dishwasher; it was marked as hazardous. She also found the same chemical in Kraft dinner, which was used to feed her son. In order to clear this misunderstanding, Mr. Schwarcz stated that the chemical, Sodium Tripolyphosphate has many tasks. STPP is used in many cleaning agents for better cleaning. In macaroni, it is used to increase water retention capacity. The biggest misconception among people is that chemicals in food are dangerous. The word chemical is mistaken by toxin in many cases.

4- Mr. Schwarcz reports that several advertisements by companies try to fool people through the use of illogical explanations of science. One of the famous commercial is about a type of underwear, claiming to have high absorption capacity. The claim is that the underwear does so, by dissociating the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, due to the material of the cloth.

5- Another such illogical advertisement was about Lulu lemon designer clothing showroom. This claims that the clothes are made from seaweeds that release marine amino acids, minerals and vitamins into skin upon contact with moisture. When analysed in a laboratory, no trace of any such amino acids, vitamins and minerals were found.

6- Another example given by Dr. Schwarcz relates to a cosmetic, claiming to be “made by nature, not a chemist”. This statement creates misconception amongst people regarding chemistry. Dr. Schwarcz continuously repeated the statement that all chemicals are not hazardous. Advertising companies often make proclamations without supporting it. One such statement by Lulu lemon states that pops shall be known as the cigarettes of the future. Personally, I agree with the statement. Although the effects of pop are different from cigarettes, the fact that both of them are harmful cannot be ignored.

7- Another extremely ridiculous claim made by a pipes company states that the sudden right angle turn of water molecules, when gushing through straight pipes, changes the bond angle of the water. This change kills water molecules. Therefore, the water we drink and bathe in is actually dead water. The company proclaims that pipes made by that specific company revamps the changed bond angle of water, hence, supplying “pure” water. Although the whole idea is preposterous, the most absurd issue is that people actually claim a positive change in their lives, through the products use. They assert the feelings of betterment after bathing and drinking water from that specific pipe. Dr. Schwarcz Quotes Einstein in conclusion to this example. “Only two things are infinite: universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the former.” This quote blew the audience in hysterics.

Jun 16, 2008

Hey! There Are Cockroaches in my Chocolate Ice Cream! (Part 1/4)

Its summer and school is over, even though there is still some time before the freshman year at U of T commences, me and my friends have decided to get a leg up on the rest of the class by attending lectures open to public at the St. George campus. I had known about this particular lecture for some time and when finally the day arrived, we all headed out to the venue using the all too convenient TTC.

University of Toronto St. George Campus offers not only one of the best education (if not the best) in Canada but it also has a rich architecture and history, not to mention its ideal location in downtown Toronto, visiting the campus is always fun, even if you are not a student here.

As the weather was dry and the leaves very colorful, the pictures we took actually came out pretty well, which is still a surprise to me. Anyway, in the auditorium we got front row balcony seats. I have always been fascinated with the theater sound system, no matter how you set up a home theater system, technology is still not good enough to miniaturize the grandeur of true theater sound.

Dr. Joseph A. Schwarcz spoke for about an hour and eight minutes on the topic of scientific illiteracy, amongst the general population; presenting well over a hundred slides (phew!).

The Dr. presented with quite a bit of humor, which made the lecture quite interesting (I would say down right entertaining). The lecture hall was pretty full, must have been the unusual title of the lecture. The name might lead one to believe that its something to do with food hygiene but as it turned out it wasn't, I guess people will pay attention if you tell them they have cockroaches in their chocolate ice cream.

To be continued...

Jun 9, 2008

finding a walkable neighborhood

its starting to get really hot here, rising mercury doesn't sit well with my already weak resolve for going out for a run around the neighborhood, the gym still seems like a much nicer place to sweat out, fuel at more them $4 a gallon is still not prohibitive for the trip to the gym, at least for those of us who have been crying wolf for sometime and have prepared for this carnage by sticking with fuel efficient vehicle like toyota prius.

Though its uncomfortably hot for a walk out in the sun, one can still enjoy a late evening stroll, but then even that might pose a few problems for those who live in the suburbs.

With memories of San Francisco still fresh in my mind, wouldn't it be great to have more safe and affordable walkable neighborhoods here in northern Virginia, the ones I know off (old Town Alexandria, Reston Town center) are still too expensive for anything even half decent, but then thats just me, there may be many hidden gems scattered around this area which are just that, but since they are more designed to be walkable (one of the things that make a neighborhood more walkable is less traffic) so I might have not come across them during my regular commute (which is often in a vehicle).

Now to address this issue of finding walkable neighborhoods somebody came up with a nice idea for a website (at least the idea is quite appealing), what it does is it gives every neighborhood a score on a scale of 1 to 100, if the area you punch in has a score less then 25 then its not a walkable neighborhood, the 'walkability' rises with the score.

you can check it out here.

Jun 3, 2008

near zero-energy house in northern virginia

its the worst of times for established home builders and the best of times for new and emerging construction companies.

My rational behind that statement? its the worst of times for established home builders as they sit on huge inventories of houses built the conventional way and the only way for them to move that inventory is to slash their prices (and hence their profits), its the best of time for new builders as they can buy land on the cheap and hop on the green building bandwagon. As long as they can deliver a product that is designed with all or some of the zero-energy mantras, they can fetch a premium for it, in many cases even if the house isn't in a desirable school district.

I have been interested in green building and zero energy houses for sometime now, a while back I came across a near zero energy house that has been built in Purcellville, Virginia. Thought about it again when I started looking for green houses (the zero-energy green) in northern Virginia, I didn't find many, Virginia legislature is in dire need to move swiftly on some green energy incentives for home builders, so that we can come shoulder to shoulder with other states that have advanced much further in that area (case in point California).

The house in Purcellville is still one of the very few well documented near zero energy houses even though it was built in 2001, its interesting because the Department of energy has also done a study on this house, you can access this report here.

The other great aspect about this project is the willingness of the owner, Alden Hathaway to share his own experience about the project which he funded himself (so he is under no obligation to share) you can checkout the Family's perspective (who lives in this house) in this youTube footage.

Department of energy finds it a good model though based on the energy usage recorded at the house, the report suggests the household would have been better off with an 8 KW solar system rather then the 6 KW system that they presently have due to their use of computers and other gadgets.

Alden Hathaway has also written a book titled "Building an Affordable Solar Home" you can download the entire book in pdf format here.

May 30, 2008

fit Fenty


"The Discipline That D.C. Mayor Brings to Cycling, Running Also Marks Politics, Some Say.

Many know that Fenty (D), a triathlete, likes to start his mornings with an early run three times a week. But what's little known are his twice-weekly midday cycling and swimming sessions, reserved by his staff as two-hour blocks of personal time."

"You've got to squeeze it in. If it's a priority, you'll find the time," Fenty said of his workout after he had completed a 33.8-mile course in about 90 minutes. "To be honest, there are times I wish I could be out there longer."

"At 6 feet and 180 pounds, Fenty appears the picture of fit, but he hasn't always been that way. In 2000 -- the year his twin sons were born, he wrapped up a long campaign for a D.C. Council seat, and he and his wife renovated their kitchen -- Fenty did not run a single time. He also reached about 215 pounds, Shawn said."

read the rest about the mayor here

May 29, 2008

Dealing With Close-Mindedness

Steve Pavlina is the author of a popular web site and blog dedicated to personal development, you can wiki the author for his bio, here is an interesting post from 2006 about close mindedness:
"How can you intelligently deal with people who are close-minded, totally stubborn in their beliefs and unreceptive to new ideas? Perhaps you feel certain you’re right and they’re wrong, but you can’t seem to convince them to see things your way. And maybe you are in fact right, but that doesn’t prevent the other person from resorting to irrational arguments to keep from agreeing with you. What can you do in such situations?...

...You’ll probably notice that when you get into an argument with a close-minded person, you become more rigid and close-minded yourself, at least temporarily. You might even argue with the other person in your head for days. But the more you develop the ability to compassionately accept people wherever they are, the more open-minded you become. The less you resist, the more you can forgive and accept...

...Being open-minded doesn’t mean being gullible. Being open-minded means that you’re receptive to new ideas and willing to consider other perspectives to see if they hold any value. If they hold no value for you, dump them. If they strike a chord with you, explore them further. The more you can openly consider ideas without resisting the people behind them, the faster you can grow as a human being...."

read the rest here:

May 28, 2008

Tom Wolfe on Mark Twain, Muhammad Ali and Silicon Valley

Interesting words from Tom Wolfe, many will find his commentary on Silicon Valley and its culture of rejecting the ostentatious ways of some other parts of the country (particularly New York and to some extent southern California) quite interesting, according to him there is a difference in the way silicon valley accumulates wealth,he also points out that though during the dotcom debacle Silicon Valley lost the most money, no financial scandal of the size of Enron or Adelphia ever came out of companies based out of this region.

In quoting himself from an article he wrote about Intel-founder Bob Noyce and the birth of Silicon Valley, he mentions how America might benefit by re-embracing Midwestern values such as self-reliance, hard work, discipline and decency. He also shares an anecdote about the Intel founder on how when the man with great ideas built his mansion with an Olympic size swimming pool and three tennis courts he made sure to have thick forestation as part of the property's landscaping not just to protect his privacy but more so that it doesn't become a vulgar display of wealth, he also pointed out that unlike those living on the East coast, where one likes to be driven or flown, the silicon valley culture allows you to buy expensive cars, only if you will drive it yourself, or even keep a company jet only if you will fly it yourself, you can hear all of it here, (Tom Wolfe starts speaking after 8 minutes).

I found this quite interesting as I just got back from San Francisco this morning, I can say that even though the real estate around that region is expensive so much that only millionaires can afford a decent place, I did notice a certain nice way in the attitudes of the locals, it may be due to the great weather, the beautiful scenery all around or just a few right rules of conducting ones life set by the people who first established silicon valley as the technology power house of the country I left San Francisco with a lot of pleasant memories, I think I wouldn't mind returning soon.

May 5, 2008

Plug-in hybrids a necessity

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are vehicles that not only rely on an engine and an electric motor for motion but whose battery can be charged using an external electric source, these cars can be plugged in to any regular power outlet and charged. right now with existing battery technology there are plug-in that can run solely on electric power for around 100 kilometers (62 miles) per charge; better and longer range vehicles are coming out at a lighting pace, so the future of hybrid looks bright, though none of the mainstream car manufacturers currently produce PHEVs, most of the production is currently from boutique car manufacturers or enthusiast mechanic shops who retro fit your existing Toyota prius with an additional lithium polymer battery pack and some circuitry that works in tandem with out of the box prius power management/distribution system.

Imagine, a person driving every day a distance shorter than the car's electric range would never have to use fossil fuel (you can generate electricity from clean sources such as solar, wind, hydal and to some extent nuclear).

According to EPRI, half the cars in the U.S. are driven 25 miles a day or less. "A plug-in vehicle with even a 20-mile range could reduce petroleum fuel consumption by about 60 percent," says Bob Graham, Manager of EPRI's Electric Transmission program.

Apr 29, 2008

its the French

"Everyone is a prisoner of his own experience. No one can eliminate prejudices--just recognize them."
Edward R. Murrow

read this in todays post thought I'd share it on my blog, I would leave it up to the online community to draw there own inferences.

...About 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the french prison system are Muslim, according to Muslim leaders, sociologists and researchers, though Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country's population.

...In Britain, 11 percent of prisoners are Muslim in contrast to about 3 percent of all inhabitants, according to the Justice Ministry. Research by the Open Society Institute, an advocacy organization, shows that in the Netherlands 20 percent of adult prisoners and 26 percent of all juvenile offenders are Muslim; the country is about 5.5 percent Muslim. In Belgium, Muslims from Morocco and Turkey make up at least 16 percent of the prison population, compared with 2 percent of the general populace, the research found.

read the rest hear:

Apr 24, 2008

near zero-energy houses in the east coast

there is a new community being built in the east coast that do not require much energy, the pilot project is in paterson, NJ check out the details on BASF website.

The BASF Near-Zero Energy Home-Paterson, N.J., will serve as a proposed template for the City of Paterson's ongoing project to build 3,000 affordable housing units. Paterson is one of New Jersey's largest and most economically challenged cities. Local home construction builders and unskilled labor forces will be encouraged to participate in the project to learn about and implement new energy saving construction techniques into other projects within the region.

Sudoku, the new favorite pass time

Sudoku, which means 'Single Number', seems to be the 'it' mind game these days. Though there's nothing better than doing a crossword puzzle on a nice Sunday afternoon, solving a sudoku puzzle can be just as fun. I have been a huge fan of crossword puzzles and mind games since i was a kid and this craze of sudoku has given me a new challenge to take on. I think a crossword puzzle is a test of one's general knowledge where as sudoku challenges one to use logical thinking and reasoning.

Sudoku was invented in 1979 by an American architect Howard Garns, it became popular in Japan in 1986 and became an international hit in 2004-2005. Howard died of cancer in 1989, and though he lived to see the games success in Japan, he missed its recent Worldwide fame.

Since 2004/2005 sudoku has taken to crowds all over the world. In fact, you'll find that most workplaces now hold weekly or monthly sudoku contests among co-workers. I think mind games like sudoku, tangrams, crossword puzzles, Rubik's cube, etc are all great in developing one's logical, analytical, and intellectual skills. Although such games are usually a hit amongst adults, I think promoting them in the classroom would sharpen a child's skills without using rudimentary ways of teaching.

Like the crossword puzzle, you'll be sure to find sudoku puzzles in almost every electronic or printed newspaper. Here are a couple of resources I use to get my daily dosage of sudoku:

Sudoku - Los Angeles Times

Sudoku - New York Times

Apr 23, 2008

If you care for Earth (part 5/5)

if you are building a new house, see if you can make provisions for:

1- Solar Electric Home Power System
2- Ceiling Fan Outlets
3- Fluorescent Light Bulbs
4- Increased Insulation Energy Efficient Windows
5- Water Conserving Landscape
6- Tankless Water Heater
7- Environmentally Friendly Flooring
8- Satellite linked Irrigation Controller
9- Construction Materials Recycling
10- Fiberglass Doors
11- Fiber Cement Siding
12- Gray water system
13- Water Conserving Fixtures
14- High-Efficiency Furnace and Programmable Thermostat
15- Radiant Roof Barrier Sheathing
16- Structured Plumbing
17- Tightly Sealed Ducts
18- Water Conserving Laundry Equipment
19- Environmentally Friendly Paint
20- Eco-Cabinets
21- Foam Wrapped Building Envelope
22- Recycled Content Decking
all this will help you

1- improve energy efficiency
2- conserve water
3- improve indoor air quality

If you care for Earth (part 4/5)

when it comes to choosing your diet, look for low-carbon (not just low-carb) diet which means
1- don't condone groceries that have traveled a long distance to end up on your plate
2- choose chicken over beef or lamb
3- cheese is also a high carbon food (same industrialized system, which is fertilizer-intensive)
4- avoid sea food as much as possible ( it requires a lot more energy to keep it fresh and it usually needs to be flown, 80% of seafood in the US market is imported
5- eat locally grown seasonal food
6- avoid bottled water, if necessary then go for locally bottled water
7- order only the food that you will eat (left overs are not good for the planet, as all that energy spent in producing them went to waste plus the food will rot in land fills and create methane
8- do not use paper/plastic plates and cups, use long lasting, durable china and silver ware (use environment friendly dish washing liquid if possible)

Apr 22, 2008

If you care for Earth (part 3/5)

1- use bicycle
2- use public transport as much as possible whenever given a choice, choose a train, bus (in that order)
3- use an electric hybrid
4- use electric scooters and cars
5- plan your trip before hitting the road so you get more done in single trip
6- ride sharing

If you care for Earth (part 2/5)

Waste management
1- recycle
2- reduce the amount of trash you need to throw out,
3- dont buy stuff that is packed in smaller chunks ( it produces much more waste)
4- ask your home owners association to reduce the garbage collection to once a week instead of twice

If you care for Earth (part 1/5)

if you care about the World you live in and find yourself asking what more can you do to help our planet here are a few tips on how to reduce energy consumption around the house:

1- change all your light bulbs to LEDs or compact florescent
2- buy energy star compliant electronics
3- try never to leave your electronics on stand-by
4- never leave phone charger/adapters plugged in to walls (if you aren't using them)
5- hyper insulate your homes
6- get a higher R rated window pane for your windows
7- use tankless water heaters
8- use detergent that doesn't require a longer wash cycle or hot water
9- use smart washer/dryer
10- avoid central air-conditioning/heating otherwise get multi zone systems, and keep your thermostat at 68 degrees in winters and 74 degrees in summer, use fans
11- do not use microwave
12- get your house equipped with solar or wind power
13- turn off lights when ever leaving a section of your house
13- buy environment friendly detergent, buy hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach

Apr 19, 2008

google web application platform

google recently unvailed its web platform (similar in idea to amazon S3/EC3) you can serve your server side web applications on google scalable infrastructure with free access to google account authentication and google file system, so far only python is supported.

these guys have literally made IT infrastructure business in to a utility business.

Alan Greenspan on fiscal conservatism?

Im just very disappointed, he said glumly, as he sat in his living room. Smaller government, lower spending, lower taxes, less regulation, they had the resources to do it, they had the knowledge to do it, they had the political majorities to do it. And they didnt.

Alan Greenspan expressing his opinion on the Bush administration fiscal policies. I had bookmarked ths interview last year when it first came out, just didnt get a chance to share it, so here it is, still as amusing as it was the first time I saw it.

Read the full interview on newyork times here

Apr 17, 2008

Grading the States 2008

'Pew's Center on the States' identifies and advances state policy solutions. My bringing up the trust is in regards to its recent publication "Grading the States 2008" report, this is an annual report that tracks the performance of the various state government functions which in turn reflects on the performance of the State Government employees ( known as 'civil servants' in the common wealth countries) in this years report Virginia scored an A, which is indeed well deserved.

Virginians have always provided leadership when it comes to public services in fact the schools here are ranked consistently at the top amongst there peers in various independent publications, last year Education Week published a survey indicating that a child born in Virginia has a better chance for life success than children born in any other state in the nation.

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie mellon professor whose last lecture has been the most downloaded internet artifact in recent history mentions that one of the last things he has done is to buy a house for his family in the Cheasepeak Norfolk Virginia region as he belives its the best place to raise kids.

And, for the second year in a row, Virginia was named the best state for business by Forbes.com (thanks to the business friendly environment created by the local leadership).

For those interested, I will re-publish the Executive summary from Pews report, you can read the full report here.

Smart long-term planning is one reason Virginia has long been one of the best managed states in the country.
Performance measures guide budgeting and management decisions. Sound strategies provide the state with high-quality employees and information technology (IT) without great expense.

Virginia uses state and agency strategic plans to achieve social goals by linking program and managerial performance measures. These measures are tracked online so that the public can easily see the results. Strategic IT planning also is tied closely with performance and delivers savings to the state through innovative agency investments.

Virginia takes a sound, long-term approach to money management but has scrambled to balance revenues and expenditures in today’s uncertain economic climate. The procurement system links to the federal system to take advantage of discounts available to the state and local governments.

Virginia is a leader in human resources management. Human capital planning and good data help agency decision makers plan for the future. Virginia’s knowledge management system allows officials to offer training to new workers to give them the skills and information that have helped the current workforce succeed.

Virginia has a multiyear capital planning process. It does not have criteria to help set priorities in the selection of buildings projects, but it has a good system for public input in plan development. Virginia recently developed a capital asset management system, though it does not conduct regular comprehensive condition assessments of its buildings.

Apr 14, 2008

Salman Ahmad's Junoon

So we went to a Salman Ahmad/Junoon concert on April 6th at the tidal basin in Washington D.C. The event was sponsored by the Pakistani Embassy and the concert was part of the annual Cherry Blossom festival here in D.C. The venue couldn't have been any better than the steps of the Thomas Jefferson memorial, in front of the tidal basin. Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy and dark day which didn't set the right ambiance for the lively music of Junoon.

The original members of the group have split up and the band now comprises of Salman Ahmad and Pandit Samir Chatterjee. I remember my first Junoon concert,when the original group was together, it was the best live concert I've ever been to. Just as Bryan, Salman, and Ali walked onto the stage, the audience was screaming and jumping up and down. In fact, I remember a stampede of die-hard fans running down the aisles toward the stage just to get a closer look at the singers. This weekend's concert was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to Junoon concerts in the past.

Although Salman Ahmad is a great guitarist, his voice doesn't have the same Junoon that Ali Azmat had. I guess the fact that they were playing in an open air venue with out all the right equipment didn't help. In fact, just this last month we saw Salman perform at a National Geographic event and that was a great concert. It was at this concert that I met Salman's wife, Samina Ahmad, who seems like a very friendly person and is interested in meeting all of Salman's fans. I also had a chance to chat with his father, who is indeed very proud of his son's accomplishments. It was nice to see how his family supports him and shares his passion for music.

Salman currently lives in New York with his family and performs/lectures on Sufi music.

Apr 8, 2008

Interesting weekend (part 2/2)

ok so you cut him some slack thinking he is a car enthusiast (I talk about Toyota prius a lot, but then I do that with a sense of civic duty) the only thing this guy was interested in was himself! and I thought teens ends at nineteen but 'Mr. Super 40s' was kicking and screaming '18 till I die'.

Now comes the next morning, all of us went to listen to Adil Najam speak on Sustainable development and climate change (which is a subject dear to me and I will blog in detail on this) this guy decides to skip this event (he is too busy sustaining himself) has no interest in it and decides to meet us for lunch after the event.

The rest of us decide to go for halwa puri at a Pakistani restaurant, now all of us are at this restaurant and 'Mr. Valley Girl' decides that he cannot eat halwa puri now if you don't like halwa puri thats fine I can respect your taste in food, but to make it sound as if its beneath you because 'ALL PAKISTANIS like it ' is frankly intolerable, he has a knack of saying all the wrong words at the right time, I bet he keeps his mouth shut during board meeting and does most communication in writing just to avoid having the taste of foot in his mouth too often.

Apr 7, 2008

Interesting weekend (part 1/2)

living in Washington DC is like having front seats to a live comedy show where you see all kinds of characters zipping in and out, trying to stand out in one way or the other, especially now that the overall US economy is taking a hit people from all over the country can be seen flaunting there credentials in the town that holds the keys to 20% of the US economy.

This week was interesting for many reasons, on Saturday we met a Pakistani technology executive now working in California, people who know CresSoft may know him too, CresSoft, in the good old days use to be one of the more prominent software development shops in Pakistan, but then due to there inability to pull through a few key projects and a string of some very bad management decisions lost its prominence.

Nevertheless, meeting this guy was quite the disappointment. One would expect to have an intellectual discussion about technology or hear anecdotes of a experienced past from someone like him. Yet, this guy made every attempt to sell himself through his posessions. I think conversation starters shouldn't include going down one's list of assets but instead a hearty discussion on world politics, civic issues, current events, etc. I think this type of an approach exhibits qualities of someone with an inflated ego coupled with a severe inferiority complex seemingly rooted in their ancestry. A decent chap would usually come and introduce himself by telling you a little about himself and then perhaps soliciting introductions from others, but 'Mr. Desi Inferiority Complex' had his own agenda, the conversation went from cars, to health care to taxes and the guy never disappointed once, he goes from establishing BMW ownership to how he is in a high income tax bracket to basically how he is so much better then everyone else.

Anyways, by the time the evening ended, even a dog in the room would have puked, for crying out loud he was in the city to see colleges with his teenage son (who sounded so even keeled), but 'Mr. Shallow' was so busy talking about himself we didn't hear much about anything else.

you would think the torture would end there but nope it gets even more interesting read on :) ...

Apr 2, 2008

Food and Energy Crisis

Recently had a few email exchanges with a couple of friends on food/energy crisis (and possible solutions) thought it might interest some of the blog community so here are the emails:

food crisis is directly related to energy crisis:

1-In today's world farming is energy intensive, farmers use huge trackers/tillers to work the land, all of it requires lots of energy

2-since in a capitalist economy production is driven by demand therefore farmers are responding to the energy demand by moving from food crops to energy crops

3-even if that trend is reversed, farmers would not be able to work there fields as there would be no energy available to do so

One existing solution to both the problems is in Cuba's collective farming (small farms with in communities where every one pitches in) though most of us capitalist would denounce it vehemently as it would mean a fundamental shift in how we use growth as the main measure of corporate success, part of the shift would also require us reducing consumption by a great degree

Another solution (which I don't think is yet proven in the field on a large scale) would be micro power (wind mills, solar panels) as suggested by Amory Lovins, where the grid would serve to carry energy from houses to other houses and industrial complexes/agricultural farms (though given the astronomical power requirements of these complexes, I wonder if it will ever be feasible.

I think the only other option left is to use BTUs from human embryos (matrix :)), think about it, since the whole human life will be simulated in a capsule no need for energy hogging SUVs, or mass farming, heck you don't even need food diversity as all you would need is glucose to keep the brain alive ;)

Ethanol is a scam! Unless it comes from fields that do not require tilling (CO2 emissions from farm equipment), enormous fertilizer inputs (mostly manufactured from natural gas Haber process) and water inputs etc...

It's CO2 neutral as long as the plants absorb the same amount of CO2 emitted by the manufacturing and final use of the ethanol. But it's a total scam if the entire process requires massive fossil fuel, water inputs and gov farmer subsidies (US style industrial agriculture). And don't even start me with top-soil erosion issues.

US: Let's use massive amounts of the cleanest burning fossil fuel (natural gas) to make fertilizer, subsidize farmers since they cannot break even because they have to buy expensive GMO seeds and accompanying expensive toxic pesticides from criminal companies like Monsanto, and destroy our fertile top-soil in the process. Now we can drive inefficient SUVs on ethanol that costs us more than just burning the natural gas we started with!

Brazil: Let's cultivate/harvest (no till, little inputs) endless seas of sugarcane which is much more efficient than maize/corn, and instead of burning the plants every year lets make ethanol to offset ~ 40% of our gasoline usage in our relatively few lightweight cars.

Still, after all that, Brazil has to import oil although it's a major oil producer!!!

Biofuels: Green energy or grim reaper?
Biofuels 'crime against humanity'
The Ethanol Scam: One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles
Ethanol fuel in Brazil

The Ethanol Scam: One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles

Insightful to know who else is drinking the kool-aid:

As former CIA director James Woolsey, an outspoken ethanol evangelist, puts it, "American farmers, by making the commitment to grow more corn for ethanol, are at the top of the spear on the war against terrorism."
If you love America, how can you not love ethanol?

Anyway, today's WSJ reports Soybean is becoming a more lucrative crop so US farmers will plant more of that and 20% less corn. Also, prices of milk, eggs and other staples have jumped 20-30% over the past year.

people like James Woolsey have genuine interest in making US energy independent (some of there drive may be based on patriotism rather then science but that's ok) a lot of the people when talking about ethanol think about ethanol production from algae or other future crops where the return might be 1:30 or something crazy like that, in any case if a real solution doesn't arrive soon, we may actually become the first generation shopping for matrix style pods, imagine being the bunny in the Energizer commercial :)

Apr 1, 2008

Opera meets Rock

What do you get when you mix classic Opera with rock music? This fusion is best described by the music of the East Village Opera Company. This group performed at the George Washington Lisner Auditorium this past Saturday, performing all time Opera hits with a touch of rock. Opera is normally an acquired taste which may be difficult for some to digest, but this five-piece band has taken some of the most complex works of Puccini and Mozart and given them an upbeat funk. This transformation of classical works to new age rock makes the music more approachable for the average listener. The East Village Opera Company has taken great musical hits like “La donna รจ mobile” from Rigoletto, “Habanera” from Carmen, and “Nessun dorma” from Turandot and given them a new color. Although the band tries to maintain the originality of these master pieces by performing in the native language, the meaning is literally lost for a greater part of their English-speaking audience. Including on-stage sub-titles or captions would perhaps help them in overcoming this language barrier. All in all, the East Village Opera Company is a good place to start for someone new to the world of Opera. Who knows, this group may turn one into a Mozart junkie.

Mar 25, 2008

Spring in Washington DC

The leaves are turning green, the flowers are blossoming, and the air is crisp with the smell of spring arriving. With spring at our doorsteps, we should be busy planning our outdoor activities. Although we lead very busy lifestyles in this day and age, it's important to take advantage of the changing seasons. The cold and dark winter has kept us locked up indoors for too long, feeling lazy and tired to do anything. Living in the Washington DC metro area especially gives one the opportunity to enjoy the spring and summer seasons to the utmost. Running on the W&OD trail, biking through Rock Creek Park, or simply walking through the city to enjoy the Cherry Blossom Festival are some of the many activities to enjoy here. Along with the locals, visitors in the nation's capitol have plenty to do as well. Tourist from all over the country come here to enjoy the celebrations of spring, take in the festive atmosphere, and of course learn about American history as told by the numerous landmarks and monuments. So when considering a spring fling, one should think about sipping coffee at the Sculpture Garden cafe, watching the flowers bloom at the National Botanical Garden, or simply walking down 1400 Pennsylvania Ave.

Mar 16, 2008

11th hour

This friday went to Georgetown University for a viewing of the documentary narrated - and in part written by Leonardo DiCaprio on the environment titled "The 11th Hour".

Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA and Stephan McGuire, co-Producer of The 11th Hour and Betsy Taylor, co-founder of 1-Sky were there for a panel discussion, it was really nice to meet Jim Woolsey in person he has not only been doing a great deal of talking about the threat to our environment and the dangers of ignoring it, but has also been investing in many clean energy startups, in fact he has taken the best ideas that are already out there for reducing your carbon foot print and has implemented them in his own life, he drives a prius - which he turned in to a plugin - which he charges with the help of the solar pannels that power his house too.

Some quite interesting facts were brought to light at the event, and again one thing of interest was the fact that no body seems to be in favor of nuclear power, its micro power where ever you go.

The movie was good, it has a lot of interviews from Scientists and other folks currently involved with the green movement, I personally like what David Suzuki had to say, though if you are following some of the thought leaders on the subject of environment then you would realize that the movie itself had nothing new to add to whats already out there. Though it does help raise more awareness for the issue and Leonardo's charm would certainly help in that respect.

You can check out the trailer of the movie here

Mar 12, 2008

Amory Lovins, RMI and Defence Science board report

last night had the chance to hear Amory in person, he was the main speaker at an event in Washington DC (Arlington, VA actually), where he presented the 2008 Defense Science Board (DSB) report, he is a member of the DSB Energy Task Force, a civilian experts committee to advise DoD on energy.

My reason for being there was less for the report and more to meet Amory, for those not aware of how Amory or his research institute is different from the other environmental groups or individuals RMI is not in the business of telling Governments how to spend more money, instead they have been there telling businesses how to increase ROI (and Governments how to add more value to there services) by doing what they already do in a better way.

For me it was more of a pilgrimage. I have been closely following his Institutes research online, became an even bigger fan after going through Natural Capitalism and think they have done an admirable job at working with the field proven technologies in coming up with ground breaking energy efficiency solutions, the best thing about his approach towards the whole issue is his attention to the net value gained by increasing efficiency by design, this makes him not only a favorite amongst idealist but also a close friend of the business world.

As far as the RMIs stance on energy policy goes in his own words its pretty much the same as it was the first time (few years back) they came out with a report, though the consequences of not acting on the revised recommendations now are even more dire then earlier estimated.

Ed Begley is another guy who I really admire for his work towards increasing awareness for a smaller carbon foot print, he has been talking about conservation and energy efficiency for as long as RMI, though he is more on the receiving end of the design/technological advances that may happen as a result of research carried out by institutes such as RMI.

for those interested in RMIs solution for solving the looming energy crisis, its not nuclear power, in fact he thinks nuclear is the least cost effective of all non-carbon/low-carbon solutions, he is all about micro-power; wind mills/solar spread all across the world, distributed power supply is much more safer and smarter compared to grid based.

Mar 10, 2008

has it really hit the ceiling?

interesting news today, the latest assessment of scientists on climate changes is out, the looming environmental dooms day threat is still as eminent and present as it was during the Kyoto signing, the only thing different in the report is the time left for us to clean up our act, check out the news coverage here on washingtonpost.

Something related to the same issue was also reported in print here but this time its China, the sleeping giant is doing a pretty sloppy job when it comes to taking care of the air/water quality and noise pollution, the Olympics just around the corner the pressure on Beijing is mounting (no country wants its athletes coming back coughing blood) you can get an idea of what that story is all about here on nytimes.

Here is an excerpt:

"...Beijing has long ranked as one of the world’s most polluted cities. To win the Games, Beijing promised a “Green Olympics” and undertook environmental initiatives now considered models for the rest of the country. But greening Beijing has not meant slowing it down. Officials also have encouraged an astonishing urbanization boom that has made environmental gains seem modest, if not illusory.

Beijing is like an athlete trying to get into shape by walking on a treadmill yet eating double cheeseburgers at the same time. Polluting factories have been moved or closed. But auto emissions are rising as the city adds up to 1,200 new cars and trucks every day. Dirty, coal-burning furnaces have been replaced, lowering the city’s sulfur dioxide emissions. But fine-particle pollution has been exacerbated by a staggering citywide construction binge that shows no signs of letting up..."

Feb 21, 2008

anonymity experiment

here is another interesting article I read regarding privacy in the new age


...Tall and friendly, Hoofnagle has an enthusiastic way of talking about privacy violations that could best be described as “cheerful outrage.” He laid out my basic tasks: Pay for everything in cash. Don’t use my regular cellphone, landline or e-mail account. Use an anonymizing service to mask my Web surfing. Stay away from government buildings and airports (too many surveillance cameras), and wear a hat and sunglasses to foil cameras I can’t avoid. Don’t use automatic toll lanes. Get a confetti-cut paper shredder for sensitive documents and junk mail. Sign up for the national do-not-call registry (ignoring, if you can, the irony of revealing your phone number and e-mail address to prevent people from contacting you), and opt out of prescreened credit offers. Don’t buy a plane ticket, rent a car, get married, have a baby, purchase land, start a business, go to a casino, use a supermarket loyalty card, or buy nasal decongestant (4). By the time I left Hoofnagle’s office, a week was beginning to sound like a very long time.

I didnt know that Pseudoephedrine (nasal decongestant) can be used to make methamphetamine.

Feb 15, 2008

Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?

just now read an article in nytimes titled: 'Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?' found it interesting so thought I'd share a few excerpts here, read the full version here.


...But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

...Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment ... overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”

U2 in IMAX 3D and Junoon at National Geographic

U2 released a 3D video of there Latin America tour, which is in IMAX theaters these days all I can say after seeing it is that it’s a show not to be missed, we saw it at the Johnson's IMAX theater in National Museum of Natural History and it was a blast, the sheer size of the screen, combined with the IMAX 3D projection technology made every detail of the concert performance stand out, the boys still have a lot of punch left in them, production quality of the whole show is really good (you don’t expect any less from the Irish band) though after seeing their live performance with Mary J Blige in the 2006 Grammys (where Bono seemed to be struggling just to be heard over Mary) I couldn’t help but think there isn’t anything more that U2 can do, yet they keep coming back better than the last time.

I think a good way to discourage video piracy for movie production houses is to make everything in 3D so that people who pay a ticket to watch that movie in cinema really get a leg up over those watching it on home theater systems (plus it would be hard to make pirated copies off of cinema screening which would cripple any efforts of releasing the movie on the DVD/internet before it even hits the cinema in many countries) Johnson IMAX Screen Size: 62.7 x 85.3 ft. / 19.1 x 26 meters.

Junoon's Salman Ahmad will be performing live in the nation’s capitol Friday 22nd February 2008, this is one show I don’t intend to miss, now here is an idea, wouldn’t it be cool if we can have a summer concert series in Rock Creek Park's Carter Barron Amphitheatre with artists such as Abida Parveen, Salman Ahmad and perhaps Fuzon. I think it’s the ultimate venue for artists who really work with the crowd. I might just do that the next time I take a break from my regular schedule (I wonder if I can convince CARE or Red Cross to fund such a charity event).