4th of July Fireworks – 2008

I had decided way back at the start of my PhD that I am going to see 4th of July fireworks in a different city every year. While the first year was in State College, the second happened to be here too. I have been traveling like crazy over the last 7 weeks, and I REALLY needed to rest. While my friends went camping and white-water rafting for this weekend, I decided to stay back. Sigh. Not the best of my decisions.
Thanks to having owned a (digital) SLR for the past year, I have been trying my best to take shots that are more and more difficult to capture… I must confess, with all lack of modesty, that I have been lucky a few times. But yesterday, there was large black cloud so low that it was obstructing the top right quarter of all the fireworks – 🙁 Bummer. Most of the climactic show was missed, because of where I was standing.
Nevertheless, State College fireworks rank among the top few in the entire nation. The WOW feeling gets somewhat “goosebumpy” with the climax setting off over 40 shells a second. Anyway, here are a few of the shots. Hope you like them!

July4th Fireworks © Kokonad Sinha, 2008

Back then in 2007, I had no fancy camera. But I did happen to record the last 1:25 min using a friend’s camera.


Free fall.
The ecstasy of free fall.

On a wonderful day of 15th June, after a lovely night of camping in Hickory Run State Park (PA)…

Our camping site, Hickory Run State Park, PA
…I jumped off a perfectly good plane from a height of 10,000 feet. And flared a parachute 6000 feet later. Like I was already not livin’ on the edge doing my doctoral studies.

Hazleton, PA. Above the Poconos skydivers. Taking along 13 other people, it was an exhilarating experience for everyone. Falling at speeds of over 120 mph (close to 200 kmph) makes your ears go deaf. Really deaf.

Words cannot describe it. You have to be there. Trust me.

It started with a basic training exercise as to what do do when we are airborne. After a slew of papers to sign and places to write our initials, the legal stuff (which basically relieves them of liabilities in case of accidents). Next thing, we are being sorted into flight numbers. Gaurav went first, and quite the ride of his life, making complete flips at 10,000 feet. Beautiful landing. He then talks of possibly undone zippers at 10,000 feet. Saumya has some real nice tips for skydiving, that involve flying kisses and flying boeings. Soon, lots of people were flying up and falling down 25 minutes later… all happy and smiling and extremely excited. Some said they were doing it again. Some said, never again. By the time it was my turn, I had no clue how it is going to be.

The plane was crammed with 7 of us, one of who was the pilot (and the owner of the place). Who needs a comfortable plane anyway? Why the other six? Two of us, me and my friend. Two tandem jumpers, guys “harnessed” onto our backs. Two photographers, who jumped with us.

After 30 seconds of deafening falling and flipping stomachs, there was a sudden jerk and absolute silence. The parachute opened. The contrast in sound was astounding. Five minutes of peaceful sailing in the serene quietness watching over the Poconos mountains.

A day before my jump-off, I informed my sister-in-law. (And thereby my brother). After the jump, I told my parents. Guess what my dad’s fist question was…
“Was it cold up there?”
“That’s the last of my worries up there, Dad!”

The Free Fall. Soundtrack: Bruce Springsteen – Long Walk Home

Was I terrified? Yes. When you are at 10,000 feet, and the door of the plane opens the same deafening sound with a spectacular view of the earth below. That’s terrifying. My smile vanished for a second. Then it was back.
Free fall.
The ecstasy of free fall.

Seminar Appeal

As a grad student myself, who attends several seminars I relate to this greatly.

Additional factors:
Do they shut off the auditorium lights?

Are the seats comfy?

Is my adviser going too?

Why did the chicken NOT cross the road?

Crossing the road in India has over the years developed into a talent that exhibits a commendable amount of agility, tact, tolerance, diplomacy, unagi, love, presence of mind and also the ability to count the wheels of an oncoming vehicle. Yeah, because more the wheels of the vehicle, the harder it’s gonna come and hit you. That’s why standing in front of a moving train is often frowned upon.
It has been a little over a year since I have been in the US, and I have am greatly used to the driving rules and system followed here. Driving within lanes, keeping distance between vehicles, NOT crossing any solid lines whatsoever, stopping at stop signs etc. The most important one – YIELDING TO PEDESTRIANS! Yes. The oncoming traffic will stop for you to cross the road and the driver is going to wave at you wishing you a good morning/evening/weekend/Christmas. And you wave back with a smile.

I came from a country where pedestrians are treated like maggots – the drivers don’t want them on the roads, so they might as well knock them down (and run away, as many have). It took me and my friends quite a while to get accustomed to the US system of road regulations. No matter how big the vehicle, it’s going to stop. for you to cross the road. Trust me. Unless it’s a train. Or an aeroplane. Or if you are being really adventurous and are attempting to cross the freeway or the interstate.

I think the rule is – Lesser the number of wheels, more the respect you’ve got on the road. Bicycles are next to pedestrians. But then unicycles are above pedestrians. Because even pedestrians stop to look at or look out for unicyclists. Unicyclists are funny.

After obtaining a license for driving in the US, my American colleagues often asked me if I had trouble getting used to driving on the right side from the left side of the car. To which my reply had always been “Naah, that was never a problem. In India they drive on both the sides of the road”. Another day, I searched for Indian driving on YouTube and showed it to my American research colleague and the few minutes of screening were punctuated heavily by
“Oh dear God”
“What the…”
“Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod…”
“Aren’t they scared?!”
“He’s gonna die! He’s gonna be roadkill!”

Anyway, now I think I have got too used to the US driving, which according to some people, is boring, because nothing happens. It’s made me soft. Now I am going to India for a couple of weeks to a city with one of the most understanding, accommodating and affectionate traffic personalities ever – Kolkata.


KOKIPEDIA finally launched!!
by Gaurav Bhardwaj


STATE COLLEGE, PA. The much awaited “Kokipedia” was finally launched in early hours of morning today at a function organized at this knowledge capital of Central Pennsylvania. The new ‘know it all interactive knowledgebase’ derives its name from Latin word ‘Kokos’ meaning Kokonad Sinha and ‘Pedious’ meaning knowledge. The crowd went berserk when the name of knowledgebase was released. People think it could not have come at a much better time.

The crowd was upbeat and believes that it may be answer to all the confusion in the world due to Wikipedia and all and this knew knowledgebase may hold answers to all the people’s problems. It’s just a matter of meeting or calling Koke now. As D said, “Koke knows it all” and frankly this has been the general perception for a decade or so now. When questioned about his huge knowledgebase, Kokonad Sinha modestly said, “It’s all due to instruction manuals!!” Koke’s affection towards instruction manuals is a well known fact. He holds the record for reading most number of instruction manuals in a year. Another related record that Koke holds is for assembling maximum number of furniture items in a year. Earlier this year, Koke also raised the issue of making the instruction manuals of APOLLO 11 public. The issue generated lot of public attention and had caused quite a storm in senate.

There was no need for a Beta version, we all agree about the soundness of our knowledgebase” replied the Kokipedia Team when asked about the need of releasing a beta version first.

None of us can actually fathom the depths of this knowledgebase as of now but one thing is sure that this day will be remembered as the day when attrition of Wikipedia started.

Disclaimer and fine print (MUST READ): The editor of this blog (Kokonad Sinha) has nothing, NOTHING to do with this post. Also, he has nothing to do with the picture of himself used in that obscure rubik’s cube. It was solely the idea of everyone but himself. Gaurav Bhardwaj, the author of The Antisense Strand, is going to attend to all comments on this post.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

This is what PhD does to people!


Frankly ridiculous science

Honoring achievements that first make people LAUGH, and then make them THINK. That’s the tag line associated with the Ig Nobel Prizes. A welcome change from the daily grind in the lab – an intention to make us recognize and identify with incredibly relevant and important issues in our lives.

Sometimes they are mildly amusing.

Like the fact that the presence of humans tend to sexually arouse ostriches. Or the fact that you can have safe sex at zero kelvin. Did you know there is a concrete relationship between country music and suicide? There is a study on the nature of injuries caused by falling coconuts. Effects of ultrasound in cheddar cheese. Why the woodpecker gets no headaches. Does a swimmer move quicker in water or syrup? Invention of an aerosol for underwear that may help determine if a husband was faithful or not. Use of quantum physics for achievement personal happiness. Farting loud as a means of protection from excessive fear.

Some winners in 2007
Source: http://www.improbable.com/ig/ig-pastwinners.html#ig2007
A penetrating medical report on sword swallowing and its side effects.
Invention of a method to extract vanilla fragrance from cow dung.
A study that shows that rats sometimes cannot tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards.
A spellbinding manuscript exploring the seemingly boundless appetites of human beings, by feeding them with a self-refilling, bottomless bowl of soup.
My favorite this year – The US Air force won the Ig Nobel Prize for PEACE for instigating research & development on a chemical weapon – the “gay bomb” – that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other and want to make love, not war.

Ceremony trivia:
The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October — a week before the genuine Nobel Prizes are announced. Organized by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), they are presented by a group that includes genuine Nobel Laureates at a ceremony at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater. Nominees can come in any attire they like. A speech is made on receiving the award, but not longer than a minute. When the lime limit is broken a girl named Miss Sweetie Poo appears on the scene to say ‘Please, stop! I am bored’ in a high-pitched voice. The closing line of the ceremony is always “If you didn’t win a prize — and especially if you did — better luck next year!” The first Ig Nobels were awarded in 1991, at that time for discoveries “that cannot, or should not, be reproduced.” More of the same at The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

End note:
Gaurav has chosen his research topic so he has a chance to win the Nobel Prize in every field except Peace and Literature.
Other mock awards:
Golden Raspberry Awards for bad film work
Darwin Awards for fatally foolish behavior
Pigasus Award for paranormal fraud (U.S.)
Bent Spoon Award for paranormal fraud (Australia)
Stella Awards for “outrageous” lawsuits


Of cultural sentiments, hugs and kisses

From The Daily Collegian, 27th April 2007

This news article appeared in the daily published newspaper (The Daily Collegian) of my university – staring at everyone in big bold letters.

Click to view larger image.

Aaaargh! Don’t publicity seekers (the judge, in this case) in India EVER realize what a big fool they are making of themselves voluntarily? A silent satirical mockery has been made of “publicity seekers” and frankly, many of us are plain EMBARRASSED that it has been printed in a paper with a readership of over 40000 students from all over the world. I actually tore it off and scanned it so I could just put it up here… my emotions are a mixture of ludicrousness, sympathy and embarrassment at the same time.

Spotted in this article –

“their kiss at a public function transgressed all limits of vulgarity and have the tendency to corrupt the society”

What tendency to corrupt is this judge (the one issuing the arrest warrant against Richard Gere) talking of, in a society riddled with fiscal corruption, rape, child trafficking and atrocities to womankind? A playful peck on the cheek to compliment someone is NOT corruption of social customs! Don’t even get me started on that age-old argument of “hurting the religious customs and culture of India”. Who gave them the license to rule what is the right culture? Isn’t culture and open-mindedness a relative thing?

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