Aug 30, 2007

New way to resize images automatically

At the SIGGRAPH 2007 conference, in the session named Image Slicing and Stretching there has been a notable technology presented by two researchers from Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL).

Called Seam Carving for Content-Aware Image Resizing, it's described as

Seam carving is a method for content-aware resizing that changes the size of an image according to its content. This paper shows applications to aspect-ratio change, image retargeting, and object removal.

Resizing images to make them fit in the required internet form factor without distorting its contents has always been a bit of a challenge. The demonstration of this tool, seems to make the work involved a lot easier and automated. The ability of a page to resize with the browser window is called liquidity. Here the images in the page also support that concept.

It also demonstrates the capability of locating areas of that are least important or have the 'least energy' and removing them without any noticeable distortions. However, there are limitations, especially where there are large composition elements such as faces and people that cannot be skewed without obvious effects.

To see these very interesting image transformation capabilities see the following video.

The two researchers, Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir have been promptly recruited by Adobe Systems Incorporated, who in-fact chaired the conference session. I fear this tool may also just get incorporated into Adobe's proprietary image manipulation software, instead of becoming available in the open source arena.

Meanwhile, traditionalists moan the manipulations possible in digital images and note that it undermines the integrity of photographs and the art of photography.

Aug 29, 2007

Family Net

Vowing Wedding Favors

The New York Times featured a very amusing story illustrating how the Internet is rapidly becoming a basic essential of life. It tells the story of the effect on the dynamics of a family gathering.

That was my first inkling of how the vastly expanded electronic and informational needs of houseguests would flavor our time together. Soon guests were positioning themselves to get dibs on one of the three computers in our Long Island house the way they would otherwise line up to jump in the shower.


Oy! Couldn’t we all stop the keying/ringing/texting/e-mailing and just talk? Mea culpa, on that score. My own escape from an overstuffed house was to sneak away to my office, where I pecked away at the mounting e-mail and checked Yankees scores. But my solace didn’t last long.

“I hate to bother you,” came a small voice from behind me. “The downstairs printer is jammed up. If I send you an attachment as a Zip file, can you unstuff it and print it up here?”

A somewhat much milder version of this happens in our family as well. In the last 3 years, our very geographically extended family got together twice, after a long time, for a couple of weddings (including mine). At some of the venues where we stayed, there was obviously no internet. Those of us who have become habitually connected into the online world, felt very fidgety about being unplugged. There was an element of restlessness and feeling helpless. One's eyes inevitably seek some sort of monitor, fingers itch for buttons to press. And wherever there's a computer, usually it's only one without Wi-Fi, everybody takes turns checking their emails, making sure all is well with their online world. People upload their digital photographs and everybody gathers around to see them again and again. Conversations drift towards discussing latest software, hardware and digital exploits. Yes, I did load some old movies & photos and show them off to relatives - to various reactions of embarrasment and laughter.

There were other aspects - everybody carried cellphones (and their chargers), everybody carried digital cameras (and their chargers, memory cards etc. ). Some moments in our wedding felt like walking into a field of paparazzi - there were so many continous flash bulbs from so many digital cameras.

Our family is still safe - there are not that many confirmed techies among us. We are still able to talk to each other in person. Our recent gatherings turned out to be a lot of fun (after the digital withdrawal symptoms had dissipated) and there were many lively conversations and sharing of experiences.

Nevertheless, I feel more connected to those who are online. Those I cannot email, seem to be living in an unreachable place. I can't tell whether this is the new 'normal' or the digitally obsessive.

The New York times story is here.

You can also try the quiz below (thanks, Praz), to see how geeky you are

80% Geek

Lunar Eclipse in Wellington

I finally saw one. Some time ago, my brother in South America was talking to me on the phone while he was watching his first lunar eclipse. Normally non-plussed, he was very excited - "Oh my God, it has really gone blood red."

So, I had a mental note that on 28th August I must, at all costs, get out and observe the lunar eclipse which would be visible here. When the evening came, it was actually my wife who reminded me. We both went out onto our staircase to observe the sky.

Observing Lunar EclipseObserving Lunar Eclipse

The moon was glowing beautifully in the sky. The Eclipse was to have started, but we could not observe anything out of the ordinary. Then we noticed a small shadow beginning to creep up under the moon's disc.

The clumps of heavy clouds were moving quickly across the sky, and we got glimpses of the progressing eclipse through the gaps in the clouds. A strong, cold Wellington breeze was blowing, The shadow very slowly progressed from the bottom of the moon's disc to the top. As it covered more and more of the moon, the colour of the shaded region got redder. So this is what is also referred to as 'blood moon' or 'Red moon'.

I took some photos with my regular Digital Camera.

Lunar Eclipse - 1

Lunar Eclipse - 2

Lunar Eclipse - 3

Lunar Eclipse - 4

More information links

Aug 28, 2007

Blog Addict

I just tried out a quiz on 'How Addicted to Blogging are you?' I got the following

70%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

If you feel like trying out the quiz yourself, click on the above picture to go to the site. Feel free to post your score to this post as comment.

Aug 20, 2007

Graduate Tax

A panel in the Indian government has recommended that the Government of India tax graduates of India's institutions that enjoy any education subsidy from the government. It's called the 'graduate tax' or 'exit tax'.

from the Times of India

Parliament's standing committee on HRD ministry has recommended taxing students who take up overseas jobs after graduating from premier higher education institutions and their employers as well.

Called 'graduate tax' and 'exit tax', the standing committee has argued that such a system is in vogue in many countries.

However, it did not mention the name of these countries. In its report, the committee said graduate tax was levied on those who used the services of trained manpower.

"An employer is required to pay an annual tax to the government for each graduate recruited by it," the committee said, while admitting that the scheme had a major drawback as it might lead to substitution of university graduates with less educated manpower.

"Nevertheless, the committee feels that taxing employers based on the type and number of manpower they use has a good rationale and should be considered seriously for implementation," the report said.

In its reply, HRD ministry said the committee's suggestions would be conveyed to the finance ministry and the University Grants Commission.

The parliamentary panel said the imposition of exit tax on students taking up foreign jobs after obtaining their degrees, particularly from premier institutions which are run with massive state subsidies, was suggested by some experts.

They argued that the expenditure on such students did not provide any returns to the country.

On the face of it, it is very logical. The Goverment funds these students to study, so when the time comes, it wants the economic value of the generated brain power back.

Let's see what the implications of such an enforcement would be.
  1. First and the most basic, is the reduction in freedom for the students. This would cause the percieved value of such education to drop.
  2. Second is that it is usually the best ranked institutions and universities of India that recieve the most subsidy. It is a fact that most of the affiliated graduates of these places look for overseas opportunities as soon as possible, though it is said that the trend is declining. The enforcement would precipitate a crucial choice in what is more important for bright students - getting overseas experience or getting into the highest ranked universities (and facing unemployability). My own experience is that after you have graduated and are in the working world, it doesn't really matter as much where you graduated from, as what your abilities are. So, my bets are - the highly ranked, but subsidised institutions, will have more trouble attracting the best candidates and their rankings may suffer.
  3. The "graduate tax" specifies the employer as the one who pays the taxes. I don't see this happening except in some exceptional case, where the prospective employee is a genius of some kind. This renders the graduates unemployable abroad. This will add to the 'coolie' economy, where instead of inviting graduates to work abroad in an equivalent environment and gain international experience, multinational companies will open local offices in India and keep the graduates there on lower salaries, yet still extract their pound of Indian brain power.
  4. As the Indian diaspora worldwide will attest - the latest typical Indian emigrant to other countries is very competent and professional. This has helped change the perception of India. The first generation immigrants are also very closely tied to families back home and many send back financial assistance. The more prosperous are also donating to charities, scholarships and frameworks to enhance the capabilities of the people back home. The Indian businessmen abroad are investing back in India as they see it as a great growth opportunity. All this will suffer. The second generaton of immigrants tend to be more distant and don't have that much of a connection to India.

In the end, the loss may be far greater than the gain.

A better option for the Government, to keep it's investment in the institutions, is to take off the subsidies altogether. I can see the traditionalists screaming at me now, asking how is the poor guy to be educated then? How will they pay the resulting enormous education fees? The answer lies in the Government giving out individual loans to economically challenged students. A condition can be set that if the graduate accepts to take this loan and then proceeds to go abroad, then they have to pay 'graduate tax'. As long as they remain in the country they don't need to repay the loan and won't be taxed. This would continue to help the poor students and the well-off won't use up the Government's resources.

Yes, this means rich students will leave India and the poor will stay. This is already true - the airline ticket and foreign visa applications are not cheap. But no matter how you slice it, this 'graduate tax' measure is discriminative.

Aug 17, 2007

Happy 60th Birthday, India

Stamp Independence Day

Six decades ago, an age old idea of an independent unified India reached reality. The old power structures of empire, kingdoms, and fiefdoms were shed. Few countries have had such a pantheon of varied and enlightened founders as India did on it's independence.

Indian civilization has always been about the human mind and in the age where mind meets technology, the nation has found its calling for the future. In the second largest human nation in the world, there's a new self confidence among the people and pride in their own abilities. Hope is easier to find, and a realisation is spreading of the possibilites.

The rest of the world is in various states of curiousity and discomfort with the rise. The press of the developed nations keeps pointing to the long tail of economically lagging population and cites a percieved economic gap (it's more of a continuous distribution than a gap). They try to badger the achievers into guilt for not taking care of everyone. Socialist preachings from the supporters of capitalism.

Remarkable transitions in the last one and a half decade has and will continue to create turmoil. Change is never easy, but its inevitable. The world's largest democracy has plenty of space for representation and amalgamation. Every faith is represented here, as is every political ideology. Yet they are all unified in searching for a better and balanced future.

Following are some memorable quotes and speech excerpts:

... I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. ...
- Swami Vivekananda, leading spiritual and Vedanta philosopher, addressing the 1893 World Parliament of Religions

I don’t know which is the greater task: to decentralise a top-heavy civilization or to prevent an ancient civilization from becoming centralised and top-heavy. In both cases the core of the problem is to discover what constitutes a good civilization, then proclaim it to the people and help them to erect it.
- Mahatma Gandhi, founding father of India

India is industrially more developed than many less fortunate countries and is reckoned as the seventh or eighth among the world's industrial nations. But this arithmetical distinction cannot conceal the poverty of the great majority of our people. To remove this poverty by greater production, more equitable distribution, better education and better health, is the paramount need and the most pressing task before us and we are determined to accomplish this task. We realize that self-help is the first condition of success for a nation, no less than for an individual. We are conscious that ours must be the primary effort and we shall seek succour from none to escape from any part of our own responsibility. But though our economic potential is great, its conversion into finished wealth will need much mechanical and technological aid. We shall, therefore, gladly welcome such aid and co-operation on terms that are of mutual benefit. We believe that this may well help in the solution of the larger problems that confront the world. But we do not seek any material advantage in exchange for any part of our hard-won freedom.
- Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, in a Speech to the US Congress, 1949

... The building of a free, democratic India has been one of the greatest adventures of humankind this past century. In these sixty years we have done much and we have achieved much.

[...] Today, when we look back and look around I believe we can say with some sense of satisfaction that India is on the move. There is a new dynamism in our people. A new sense of confidence in their capabilities. A new sense of hope in their collective future. They recognize we have a long road ahead in our tryst with destiny; and more to be done to redeem our pledge in full measure.

However, the people of India also know that they can do it. This new sense of confidence, this new outburst of energy of our people, has to be harnessed and channelised in the right direction for India to regain its due place in the comity of modern Nations.
- Dr. Manmohan Singh, current Prime Minister, speech
on the occasion of 60th anniversary of India’s Independence

Related article

Aug 14, 2007

Chemistry of the Internet

My colleague, Simon, passed on this website to our group today morning. A lot of frivolity, guffaws and laughter ensued.

It seems to be a chemists attempt to make sense of things on the internet, by following the model of the Periodic Table of Elements. A number of well-known (and not so well-known) online websites, services and software are organised in the table, represented as boxes. Columns stand for categories such as 'Search Engines', 'Internet Tools, 'Blogs', 'Operating Systems', and the row is used to mark the rankings of the website. Each box shows the Symbol, Sit URL
and Rank. By clicking on any of the boxes you're taken to the corresponding website.

I can be very addictive serendipitous experience. It took some effort to tear my attention away onto more 'pressing' matters.

Periodic Table of the Internet

The website can be found here.

Aug 10, 2007

Unrehearsed Nature - Battle at Kruger

Have cameras everywhere, one is bound to capture something absolutely fantastic. As in this case - a tourist on a safari captures a priceless moment, now called the Battle at Kruger. The video has already been seen 9.38 million times as I write this.

It shows lions capture a water buffalo calf, then crocodiles go after the lion's catch. A tug-of-war ensues. Meanwhile the buffalos regroup and come back to the rescue! Surely not the regular Animal Planet stuff, there's no human daring to interfere in this drama.

Aug 9, 2007

दुनिया की सबसे ऊंची सीमा पे संगीत की धारा


हिंदी में मेरी पहली ब्लोग। ब्लॉगर में अंग्रेजी के अलावा पहली भाषा हिंदी डाली गयी है।

बीबीसी से खबर है के एक संगीत ग्रुप ने एवरेस्ट (या सागरमथा) के करीब बुलंदी पे कांसर्ट पेश किया। पता नही अगर इतनी कम आक्सीजन वाली हवा में जाके इन कलाकारो की धुन भी ना बदल गयी हो।

ये वर्ल्ड रेकॉर्ड तोड़ने और चन्दा इकठ्ठा करने के लिए किया गया। आगे की खबर इस साइट पे है


Aug 8, 2007

Video Guides: Social Bookmarking

Here's another useful video from the Common Craft Show explaining another internet concept. This time it's 'social bookmarking'. Forget the 'social' for a while and think of bookmarking. Most of us bookmark our favorite sites using the browser menu, but this then keeps the bookmarks on just our local computer. If we were to go and work on some other computer, we would lose all that information. This is about saving your bookmarks on the internet so you can access them on any computer connected to the net. Very very useful to those who mostly frequent the internet using Cyber Cafes. The social part comes at a later stage, when you share your bookmarks with other people and access other people's bookmarks to gather more information.

I use, which is what this video is about, and my place of work has also launched into this sphere by having an account.

Video tutorial

Note that it is also possible to download add-on features to integrate this bookmarking service into your browser. Links to these are available below

Relevant Links

Aug 5, 2007

Prof. Hans Rosling shows us the real world

I had the priviledge to meet Sweden's Professor Hans Rosling at GOVIS 2007: Innovation in ICT conference held here in Wellington. I attended his workshop Unveiling the beauty of statistics with animations. Prof. Rosling was described in the GOVIS conference pages as
Hans Rosling has spent two decades studying the links between poverty, agriculture and disease in remote rural areas across Africa. He-founded Gapminder together with his son and daughter-in-law to promote better use and understanding of statistics by converting international statistics into moving, interactive and enjoyable graphics.

In the workshop he further informed us that his software Trendalyzer has been acquired by Google (yes, the big monster that's eating up everything) and they will help further develop it. Its features will probably be included into Google Analytics as well. This will give the software a platform and resources for more development.

Prof. Rosling already has a very busy schedule, being invited to speak in front of most major international forums, including UN bodies, OECD etc. I think every world government and media outlet should hear him. In most conference sessions I like to take lots of notes in case I forget something, but at the GOVIS session I had to put my pen down as I knew I wouldn't forget this one. Not only was the presentation enormously informative, it was also very entertaining. The famous videos below are from the TED conferences.

February 2006 - Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen

March 2007 - Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life around the world

Prof. Hans Rosling at GOVIS 2007 in Wellington

Professor Hans Rosling at GOVIS 2007 conference