Paranoid (about the) Android

Of late, we have companies like Google currently trying to connect every household device to the Internet. It has made news in recently by acquiring a company called Nest, which specializes in home automation. While Google may touch upon an interesting concept of appliances which interact with our surroundings and make our living more comfortable, at the same time it presents a scary picture of an organization which literally ‘knows’ people based on the data collected by the appliances. Soon, every little detail about your life would be recorded onto Google’s servers either anonymously or openly.

 

Science fiction is an interesting medium to produce double edged analysis of technology. On one hand, it presents a very vivid image of how wonderful a world of advanced technology would be like. On the other hand, certain works show an inherent distrust and fear of technology. Works in writing and film include the Space Odyssey trilogy, The Terminator series, The Minority Report et al. Some quirky stories feature household appliances being a major threat to the human race. Interestingly, in some cases, reality imitates fiction. Such is the case of the SPAM refrigerator.

Would you like some malware with that?

Weird as it is, it is a real incident involving a fridge which had been infected by a virus which proceeded to send roughly about 750,000 malicious emails. It was apparently a smart fridge which had internet access. This enabled it to be compromised easily by an attacker targeting it. When investigated, it was revealed that it was a part of a much larger network of compromised Smart TVs, routers, Media PCs and home computers. This shows how any internet connected device can be exploited by a hacker. In fact, this scenario has been parodied in Grand Theft Auto 4 where a security expert is killed by an electric shock from his toaster which had been hacked. Even though it was a tongue-in-cheek joke, it could very well reflect the future of technology.

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The Age of Dub

Music has never ever stayed a constant. Throughout the ages, it evolved over years and possibly millennia. This ranges from rudimentary rhythmic music which progressed to classical in the 1500-1900s and ultimately diversifying after that. In fact, the greatest evolution of musical styles was in the past century with the emergence of jazz, and blues and R&B. Suddenly in the 1950s, rock music burst into the scene and gave rise to decade’s worth of memorable music. Music began to truly diversify with Reggae, Dance, and Pop, Funk totally redefining the standard of music and enhancing variety. Rap, Hip-Hop and Metal were all the rage in the 90s up to the present day. Interestingly, a new brand of music derived from Hip-Hop, Electronica and Dance had begun to gain popularity in the past few years, possibly ushering a new era. Welcome to the Age of Dub.

The Age of Dub - Ed Solo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQlpKCmTMoc

Dubstep has emerged to prove itself to be the music of this generation, which is highly appropriate due to its origins from modern music technology. It has a very strong emphasis on kick and snare drum to lay in the base beat. On this base, they layer out varying composite beats and synth sounds, giving it a gritty tune. Almost all Dubstep songs have a ubiquitous ‘wub’ sound which keeps varying throughout the song, like at the 1:50 mark in the ‘Age of Dub’. The most interesting aspect of Dubstep is how it’s compatible with a variety of genres of music. This enables artists to experiment and produce hybrids. One such example merging classical and dubstep is ‘Crystallize’ by Lindsey Stirling.

Crystallize – Lindsey Stirling

We see how the violin and the Dubstep beat combine to produce a superb song. If you carefully notice, you can see that the violin is played in a semi-classical style and would by itself make a wonderful piece. The Dubstep beat adds onto the magic by merging effortlessly with the violin. Another spectacular performance is the live remix of Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ by Yale University’s SIC Inc.

Vivaldi’s Spring – SIC Inc

Dubstep has the notorious problem that it’s generally not the kind of music that one would dance to. Dance needs a constant rhythm, but Dubstep is rather weak in that department due to its erratic beat patterns. However, dance videos like the one shown below are a rarity, showing how a successful combination of Dubstep and dance produces rather mind blowing results. This video seems rather eerie and robotic, making it seem like the whole dance seem like a special effect.

Pumped Up Kicks|Dubstep

One derivative of Dubstep which is gaining a massive amount of traction is brostep. This is a more metal inspired aggressive variant of Dubstep popularized by artists like Skrillex. His songs - ‘Bangarang’ and ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ have been chartbusters . Skrillex’s wins (Best Dance/Electronica Album, Best Remixed Recording, and Best Dance Recording) at the Grammies established the popularity of this subgenre and that of Dubstep as a whole. This makes it one of the most influential and exciting genres of music of our present generation.

 

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See the Writing on the Wall

When one thinks about great artwork, they would immediately picture a scene depicting a person, a scene or an oil painting on a canvas. However, art is freedom of expression. It is not something that can be restricted to a specific medium or something that is passive. Art can be bold. It can be aggressive. It can create outrage. The form of art which is fundamentally rooted in offensive rebellion is the art of the graffiti. One such artist who truly defines greatness in this medium is Banksy.

Banksy is a pseudonymous British artist who is the vanguard of the counterculture art movement. His works are rife with dark and ironic humour. His work is primarily graffiti although he has worked on creating satirical sculptures. He has also worked in other forms of media such as in films and is a very ardent political activist. He is shrouded in mystery and his identity would be worth killing for. Banksy is said to have been born in 1974 in Bristol. He was apprenticed as a butcher but had moved onto freehand graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom in the 1980s when there was a massive upsurge in the vandalism culture.

 

Banksy uses a distinctive style of stencilling which allows him to make sharp looking artwork instead of the hazy freehand preferred by other artists. His serious themes deal with outrage against commercialism and oppression by the government. He feels that these two forces operating in this world are the sole cause of inhumaneness and misery. His works have a heavy dose of irony and dark humor and they hit hard with highly suggestive or in-the-face imagery. One such work is depicted in this picture:

The work depicts the Napalm girl from Vietnam whose hands are held by Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. This work depicts the irony of the American Government. The very country which gave rise to ubiquitous brands, namely Disney and McDonalds, was also responsible for the wide scale destruction and misery caused by the Vietnam War. It is a contrast of how Americans see themselves and how the world sees America. Such works reflect his contempt for politics.

 

He is also famous for a few quirky works such as this depiction of Charlie Brown smoking a cigarette with gasoline in his hand on the wall of a building damaged by fire. He plays around with the idea that the lovable Peanuts character was somehow responsible for the blaze due to his blockheadedness. This work has been affectionately dubbed by the people as ‘Charlie Brown Firestarter’. However, this interesting piece has been stolen, reflecting the value and popularity of a Banksy work.

 

Banksy in the Simpsons

Banksy is extremely famous and has been the forerunner for public interest in street art. He is said to have developed a storyboard for the introduction an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ which he appears to have tagged. He had made a film ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ in 2010 which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category and was featured in the Sundance Film festival in the same year. He has widespread patronage among art lovers. In fact, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie spent millions of dollars on his work, showing his increasing popularity as a commercial artist. His work ‘Keep it Spotless’ shown below was sold for 1.87 million dollars, proving that even a work considered vandalism is a masterpiece.

 

Keep it spotless

Banksy often feels that his commercial success is a considered a failure in his duty as a graffiti artist. He had stopped selling artwork last year and had instead focused himself on street art that made him who he is. His works are often vandalized by other graffiti artists who disapprove heavily of his stencil style artwork instead of the ‘purist’ freehand spraying employed by them. Irrespective of whether you love him or hate him, he has proven himself to be the most influential street artist of all time.

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J.R.R. Tolkien - The Father of Fantasy

Many of us have grown up reading fantasy literature. Everyone who read Harry Potter wanted to be a student at Hogwarts and emulate The Boy Who Lived. Those of us who read Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy wanted to have a shape-shifting daemon and travel across different universes. Everyone wanted to be a demigod after reading Percy Jackson. However, there is one universe that is so vast and so vivid that people of all ages wish they had lived in – Middle Earth, John Ronald Ruel Tolkien’s masterpiece. Since today is his 122nd birthday, we will celebrate his life and the influence of his works across generations. J.R.R. Tolkien is without a doubt a writer par-excellence. His magnum opus, the Lord of The Rings has been rated as the greatest fantasy work in the world and inspired an entire generation of fantasy authors.

J.R.R. Tolkien was born on this date in 1892 at Bloemfontein in South Africa. His family moved to England when he was a child after his father’s death. He lived in Sarehole in Birmingham which was full of hills and bogs. This inspired the landscape of Middle Earth, especially the setting of the Lord of the Rings. He was educated by his mother who raised him to be a very astute reader. After her early death, he moved to Edgbaston to live with a guardian. In his teenage years, Tolkien was fascinated by the fictional languages he and his cousins created, such as ‘Animalic’, ‘Nevbosh’ and ‘Naffarin’. In fact, when Tolkien served in World War I, he communicated with his wife Edith using codes that he created to bypass the censors. After 1917, Tolkien began his first work on Middle Earth ‘The Book of Lost Tales’. His romantic tryst with his wife inspired the poem ‘Beren and Luthien’ which later led him to work on the Silmarillion, a collection of tales encompassing the whole of Middle Earth.

 

Perrot’s Folly in Edgbaston, one of the inspirations for the Two Towers

After the war, Tolkien took up teaching posts in various English colleges where he worked on various aspects of linguistics and writing. He began his work on ‘The Hobbit’ and the first two volumes of the Lord of the Rings in 1925. He worked for the British government during World War II as a cryptographer due to his expertise in linguistics and code writing. After the war, Tolkien published his final work in the Lord of the Rings trilogy ‘The Return of the King’ which acted as the closure for the series. He had joined a club called The Inklings where he was close friends with noted author C.S. Lewis until his retirement.In the years of his life after retirement, Tolkien’s works became increasingly popular and had made him rich and famous. He settled down in Bournemouth with Edith until her death in 1971 and moved to Oxford where he lived until his death in 1973.

Beren and Luthien in life and in death

The collected works of Tolkien span volumes upon volumes of notes and books. In fact, the size of his unpublished notes is many times over the size of his books. Tolkien often said that his love for languages inspired the creation of Middle Earth. He himself said that the languages used in his works precluded the creation of Middle Earth itself and the characters were merely the vehicles for languages. His books were not mere stories, but rather a canvas to paint the picture of Middle Earth to the reader’s mental eye. It is said that Tolkien was the father of high fantasy, the fantasy of legendary characters fulfilling prophecies in magical worlds. Every fantasy story written today takes inspiration from the Lord of the Rings, such as ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by George R.R. Martin, ‘The Elder Scrolls’ game series and ‘The Wheel of Time’ by Robert Jordan. This reflects the legacy bequeathed by this great author who leaves his readers spellbound and invigorates their curiosity.

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The Mirror on the Canvas

Few are the artists who master the art of expressing views on the canvas. Legendary are the ones who capture the beauty of reality by hand. But only one who reigns on reflecting what he cannot see directly – Rembrandt van Rijn, the master of the self-portrait.

 

The autobiographical artist first began by apprenticing as a history painter. He then apprenticed under the painter Pieter Lastman who was an expert of religious artwork. Most of Rembrandt’s artwork features Biblical works done in the form of canvas oil paintings and etchings on paper. He worked primarily using the style of portraiture, landscape and narrative paining .Famous religious works of Rembrandt include works such ‘Abraham and Isaac’ dealing with the sacrifice of Isaac, ‘The Raising of the Cross’ depicting Jesus’ crucifixion and ‘The Stoning of Saint Stephen’ . It is rumoured that Rembrandt painted himself into his own works such as in ‘The Raising of the Cross’ where he depicts himself as one of the crucifiers. This symbolizes him as a sinner who was absolved by the grace and glory of Christ and establishes himself as a true devotee of the Lord.

 

Abraham and Isaac (1634)

In his Old Testament works, it is said that he sought his Jewish neighbours to stand in as models. This lends much to authenticity and accuracy of his works, reflecting on the rigorous ethic he followed as an artist. This was when he moved to the Jewish Quarters with his newlywed wife Saska who features much in his portraiture works around that time. He and his wife witnessed the deaths of three of their children, which pained them severely. This made Saska weak and led to her death in 1642. The beauty of his wife can be seen in works such as ‘Flora’ depicting his wife as the goddess of good harvest and fertility.

Saska as Flora (1634)

The works which truly defined him and which is he is famous for are the self-portraits. He had made several self-portraits throughout the years. The most prominent ones were done in the years 1629, 1634, 1635, 1640, 1658, 1659, 1661, 1669 which can be seen here. This shows the fascination that the venerable artist had for his own appearance. Most of us have a narcissistic idea about our appearance, thinking ourselves much better than we actually are. Rembrandt remained grounded in reality by illustrating what he understood to be his appearance. Art is truly a celebration of beauty. The beauty of Rembrandt’s works is how being true to one’s own image can manifest an appreciation for what the person truly is.

 

Self Portrait(1630)

However, all was not well for the artist in the later years of his life. He had invariably brought himself into debt by unnecessarily overbidding and purchasing various artefacts, many of which include his own paintings of contemporaries. In fact, he was barred by the painter’s guild for trading art due to his unhealthy spending. He ended up mortgaging his properties and had left a considerable debt to his son Titus. He ended up outliving his son who died in 1669. Rembrandt died in 1669 and was buried in an unmarked grave. Despite the very tragic ending of his life, his legacy of artwork is only comparable to the Renaissance greats who had lived before him. The master had carved out a niche that only he could occupy, leaving no equal in his realm.

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Hercules Of The East

Many of us are aware of Megasthenes, the Greek envoy to India who travelled to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, the ruler of the Mauryan Empire. He wrote accounts of the glories of the empire which gave rise to greats like Bindusara and Asoka the Great and gave the rest of the world the outsider’s perspective of the beauty of India. However, very few people are aware that Megasthenes wrote about a certain ‘Heracles’ or Hercules as we know him which add an interesting tale about the history of India.

When Megasthenes visited Madurai, he happened to be upon the Pandyan territory. He noticed that a certain tribe called the Shourasenas worshipped a deity of great stature who he could only describe as Heracles. The Shourasenas descended from a very ancient clan called the Yadu clan, which interestingly, is the Yadava clan in which Krishna was raised. Hence we can see that Krishna is neither a mere myth nor a god, but a man in the flesh.

The interesting part about the name Hercules was how it came about. Krishna was often referred to by the tribe as Hari and was the lord – ‘es’ of his creed – ‘kula’. Hence Hari-kula-es went on to become Hercules. It is said that when Alexander the Great invaded the territory of Porus, he found that many of Porus’ soldiers carried an image of Krishna in their vanguard.

This raises one question – if Krishna was truly a man, what part of his life is fact and what is fiction? While the Megasthenes account is a spectacular account of how Krishna could possibly be a real person, he was still yet a deity at that time. Could the myths of Krishna being an avatar of Vishnu be unfounded? Does it implicate that all gods we worship are merely just mortals? The answer is blowing in the wind.

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Hyperloop-the-loop into the future

Imagine yourself walking into a capsule – a floating capsule which you share with a group akin to how you travel in a bus. A capsule which looks like this:

As the clock ticks to departure time, your capsule begins to drift into a room which seals itself after entry. Suddenly the room begins to decompress while your capsule pressurizes itself for the imminent trip. As the countdown nears zero, you brace yourself. Suddenly, you get shot into a tube at 350 miles per hour. Welcome to the trip into the future, and the future is the Hyperloop.

As you shoot across the country, you marvel at the miracle of high speed travel which was only a dream for your parents ages ago. The brainchild of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, this invention truly reflects the genius of the man after whom the company is named after. A giant railgun shoots you into the tube like a bullet from a pistol at an extremely high speed. While the capsule itself doesn’t give you any idea of how fast you’re going, what you know about the technology is the air which used to block your dad’s car is virtually non-existent in the tubes that now criss-cross the terrain you travel on. The electromagnetic pylons that surround the tubes keep you suspended. The tubes are so long that they now stretch across continents.

An hour has passed and a young girl sitting behind you with her mother begins to ask “Are we there yet?”. The capsule gives her a reply by slowing into a halt. The capsule enters a room similar to the one which it had left an hour ago. You hear the sound of decompression and the vacuum being filled with fresh air. After a minute, the capsule opens up and you step out and enter your destination. You have reached the future and the Hyperloop trip to it was magnificent.

 

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Ctrl+P into the 3rd Dimension

Of late, the latest keyword to be buzzing in the world of technological innovation is 3D printing. The technological world is abuzz with excitement on how 3D printers are the future. This begs the question - why is the world so excited about 3D printing and what exactly is it? The answer is simple - quick and quality design. Gone are the days when one had to manually fabricate a prototype or had to rely on manufacturers to design specific parts which he or she needed in order to design a device. Now, all you need is a computer, a 3D printer, the 3D “ink” to create your design and a few hours and voila, the part you needed is ready!

Looks sweet on the outside, even better inside

The basic principle behind 3D printing is additive layering where the 3D ‘ink’ is added layer by layer onto a base and the whole design is created from ground up, akin to how a building is designed. The ink typically used is either thermoplastic strips or powders. Recent advances in printing technology now enable designs to be made out of printed metal. Additive processing much better than other design methods like lathing (shaving off) or drilling since no material is wasted in the process and the design is absolutely perfect when it is 3D printed.

Mind blowing design redefined

The exciting part about this technology is the almost infinite possibilities of it being applied. 3D printers are primarily used to quickly build prototypes to save development cost and time, which is crucial for large scale businesses. They’re also used by DIY (Design it yourself) enthusiasts and designers for novel projects such as jewellery design, printed fashion wear, model making. In fact, a gun, the Liberator, has been designed using the printing technology and has raised a debate on gun control and safety and the potential dangers of this technology while at the same time, created a lot of excitement about the potential of this technology.

The liberator

Another field which is experimenting with the various possibilities of use is Medicine. A 3D printed cast has been developed which is extremely comfortable to wear and is easier to handle and is custom made for each individual fracture you have. In fact, a 2 year old child was saved when she was given an artificial breathing tract when her original one was on the verge of collapsing and killing her. More work is being done on developing artificial bones and joints for replacement so that it’s more feasible and useful than existing replacement methods.

Just enough holes to scratch an itch!

While the printers themselves are very expensive, there are a number of sites such as Shapeways, Cubify, i.materialise and Thingiverse which print 3D designs on demand and also share popular designs. Hence we can see a very feasible business model which enables printers to be used to their maximum extent, while at the same time also becomes highly cost effective. Advances in the speed of the printers and the quality of the objects made will make them commonplace in the near future. As of now, Kickstarter, a crowd funded startup platform, has around 69 projects dedicated only to 3D printing and all of them have been funded well beyond their target, some  even up to ten times! Even NASA is funding programs to create 3D printed food for astronauts. We can actually see that the world is excited by the idea of a 3D printer being an everyday item. In the future, possibly everything would be 3D printed. We would be wearing 3D printed clothes, be listening to songs on a 3D printed phones, and even perhaps eat 3D printed food - all in the comfort of our 3D printed home.

 

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What’s in a Meme?

Everybody hates each other on the Internet. We would’ve had countless debates over issues such as Middle Eastern politics, the Syria chemical weapons crisis and whether Justin Bieber is the Beatles of our generation (No!). But even with so much discord, there is One Ring that rules the Internet – Memes.

Meanwhile, in Chemical Engineering

            The origin of the word ‘meme’ is rather interesting. The concept was actually created by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’ to describe how human culture evolves in a way a gene does. While it didn’t make much a huge impact then, it plays a more vital role right now. In our present world, memes are so popular and so pervasive in modern society that they make huge, huge news everywhere. In fact, the study of how our culture evolves is called memetics.

The question is - what really defines a meme? Based on what we understand from Dawkins’ definition, it’s pretty clear that ideas that form a part of our culture become memes. However, our universal hatred of Sonia-ji isn’t really that memetic per se. However, when we see ‘Manmohan Singham’ on YouTube, we suddenly get the urge to spread the laughter and the universal loathing on Facebook or Twitter. Interestingly, memes were rather popular in the early days of 4chan, but did not gain widespread acceptance like what we see now. In fact, we’ve begun to take notice of memes only after we stumble upon them on Facebook, YouTube, Reddit et al. In fact, there are sites dedicated to cataloguing memes such as KnowYourMeme, OhInternet and even more to showcase funny pictures such as 9GAG and Memebase. The interesting part about this is that all these websites we see now are part of the Web 2.0 generation. So we see that memes and Web 2.0 symbiotically helped each other grow in popularity.

Why do people love memes so much? Simply because they’re so damn funny! The most crucial aspect of a meme’s survival is how much it makes people laugh and how much they can relate to it. We have Rage Comics which portray the insanity of life and how much it makes us rage. We have characters like Scumbag Steve, Good Guy Greg, Socially Awkward Penguin and Success Kid to whom we can relate. We also have classic memes like ‘Winter is Coming’ which remind us of our favourite movies and TV shows. Ultimately we have viral videos and songs such as ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘The Fox’ which are crazy and hilarious.

Memes play such a huge role in our human consciousness that ads of late use memes to advertise their products. Memes also in a way help people communicate various ideas in a highly unconventional way. Memes have also been a catalyst against censorship and economic disparity causing SOPA to be repealed and the growth of the Occupy Wall street movement and proliferating knowledge about NSA’s PRISM. Memes entertain us and forms a very crucial part of society. In conclusion, one can confidently say that memes make the modern world what it is today.

To our fellow NITans:

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