Three Cups of Tea

I started reading Three Cups of Tea about 2 weeks ago but barely finished first 40 pages. This is the story of Greg Mortenson, an American, who grew up in Tanzania and now lives in northern Pakistan building schools for kids. It is a great story. He was trying to climb K2, the most feared and second highest mountain in the world and after failing to summit it he got lost on his way back and after help of some porters he reached a remote village called Korphe. People there took care of him and he wanted to do something back for them so he went and started building school for them. That is all I have gathered so far but an amazing story and very inspiring.

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In The Line of Fire

Finally I got hold of the book that I wanted to read since it got published but somehow missed it. It is the In the Line of Fire by Pervez Musharraf. Though I have seen movies made in Pakistan, Theatre shows made in Pakistan and off course music from Pakistan, somehow this is the first time I am reading a book from Pakistan.  It is not really surprising because everything I have seen from Pakistan in India must already be pruned and approved for public consumption, so it never addresses the interesting topics.

India-Pakistan topic will come up in this book but I look forward to seeing the world through Mr Musharraf’s eyes who has, according to New York Times, toughest job in the world.

Peter, Paul and Mary

I am still reading 1491, I really liked the book so far and I will write another blog about it in few days. I am reading about Mayan Calendar and I had ready about it long time ago but this book has lot more details. Anyway I went to library to stroll around since I had nothing else to do and two books caught my eyes. One is Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend  and other one is  Warlords: An Extraordinary Re-Creation of World War II Through the Eyes and Minds of Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, And Stalin . I don’t if I am going to be able to get through these books before I leave but I would like to. I started reading first one immediately because over last few months I read quiet a few books about Gnostics and subject is still interesting for me.

St Peter (Simon Peter) is the best known of Jesus’s disciple. In the first paragraph of first chapter of this book this book explained how he got the name Peter. Well his real name is Simon and his nickname, said to be given by Jesus himself, was Cephas. Cephas in Aramaic, language of Jesus spoke, means “Rock”. Now when the new testament was written, the language of the era was Greek and Cephas is translated in Greek as Petra (English verb petrify) and Petra became commonly known as Peter. St Peter is really St Simon. Now I knew that he was known as Simon Peter and I also knew that he was known as Simon the Rock but I just did not know Rock part was Peter.


Just started reading this book, ‘1491, New Revelations Of the Americas Before Columbus‘ . Columbus reached Caribbean on October 12th 1992. This is considered such an important event that time before that is considered Pre-Columbian, and in America and  Spain, Columbus day is celebrated. Hence the book name 1491.

This book is about refuting the commonly held view that people who inhabited Americas were mainly in small. nomadic bands and most of the landmass was uninhabited. This is a great books so far. It talks about how in there were more people living in Americas than in Europe at the same time. Though I think, Americas does not only include US but North as well as South America. He talks about Mayan as well as Inca cultures. Anyway I just started reading it but it is certainly is a great book to know the other history of these huge continents.  It claims that cities such as Tenochtitlan had more people that any other contemporary European city, including Paris. This city had running water, gardens and clean streets unlike any other European cities. I do get the claim of street though I don’t know how they knew streets were clean :).

Anyway, I learned some interesting facts that I did not know before…

  1. Massachusett was a cluster of several dozen villages, around Massachusett Bay. All of these people spoke Massachusett, a family of languages. Massachusett was thus the name of the family off language as well as group of people that spoke it.
  2. Pocahontas was actually a nickname that meant something like “Little Hellion” and the girls actual name was Mataoka, who was a princess in training.
  3. Inca culture, who had one of the biggest empires of all the time, had a strange way of writing/memorizing information that was very different than any other thing in the world. Surely Egyptian hieroglyphics as well as Sumarian cuneiform signs are cryptic to us as they are more based on symbols rather than than speech based scripts of most modern languages (what we speak is what we wrote, for a nerd that is a wwsiwww). khipu or Ouipu was a method of conveying the information through knotted strings. There is a primary cord and then there are secondary cords dangling from primary cords. These secondary cords have knots that mean something. Khipukamayuq, “Knot keeper” parsed the knots both by inspecting them visually as well as by running fingers through them. Apparently in 1542, Spanish governor, Cristobal Vaca de Castro, assembly all knot reader to read the strings to assembly the history of Inca empire. When he found out they contradicted  Spanish version, he ordered all Khipu records to be burnt. Only about 600 of records survived the fire. Since no Rosetta stone has been found here yet, scholars still disagree if the Khipu was actually written form of a language or just way to remember things, a mnemonic devices. If the it was really a script then they are the only know intrinsically 3-D written documents. Now that is amazing!

His Excellency: George Washington

Couple of weeks ago, one of my friend and I were talking about American history. I was telling how I thought Civil war seems like the real birth of modern America as we know it. It seems to have defined America more than the war for independence. He told me about this book that he was reading about George Washington. I remember him telling me about how Washington walked away from all the power after the war was over. Obvious comparison were drawn between Gandhi who walked away from it India got its independence in 1947. But I do think there are some fundamental differences other than the basic philosophy of achieving their goals (Military Vs Non-Violence), they were really different people. Both led their countries through the time of crisis. Both seemed to have walked away from the attraction of power. Gandhi did not get much to live. He was killed less than 6 months after India’s independence. Washington on the other hand not only returned to power but he also had a great career. It seems like though, he had to do lot of compromises that person who is trying to balance things with lot of forces pulling in different direction has to do. There was an old Indian Poem written by poet in a village that said something like this. ” After the Independence in the procession Nehru was riding high in elephant, Patel was accompanying him on the horse, but Mahatma (Gandhi) was still walking” well it sounds really good in Hindi but anyway that is how people saw Gandhi. Gandhi was also the person who gave up most of the material things. One of the thing I respected about Gandhi was he was actually did what he said. He followed the principles till the end. On the other hand I felt Washington was very well to do and he made sure he remained that way. The conflict  between his principles and reality seemed to get much clearer when the subject of slavery was described. He realized the principles on which he was building a new nation, did not have place for slavery but it seems like reasons of economy always prevented him from taking a clear stance against it. It took almost 60 more years  to take a stand against it by Lincoln.

Space and Time

Most widely understood ideas about motion of bodies come from Newton and Galileo Aristotle believed that natural state of a body was to stay at rest and it will move only when force is applied. Galileo conducted experiments (which manifested themselves in a fictitious but interesting story of dropping weights from the tower of Pisa), were used by Newton to formulate famous 3 newton’s laws of motion. Newton completely contradicted Aristotle’s idea of natural state of the body. According to Newtonian law, everybody  will continue to be in state of rest or state of motion unless it is acted upon by an unbalanced force. This idea was published in 1687 in newton’s Principia Mathematica.

Though Newton and Aristotle disagreed on the concept of Absolute space (famous ping pong example, where ping pong ball bouncing  at the same location on a table on a moving train would appear to be hit two different positions for an observer who is stationary, hence there is no absolute space), they do believed in Absolute time. So Newton introduced the concept of relativity of a position of the object in space but it still believes in absolute time meaning that time between two events would be measured same for all observers. e.g though place at which ping pong ball hits differs for two different observers, the time it takes the bounce the ball would be the same.

Apparently Newton’s law of physics fail to explain the motions of objects that travel at or near the speed of light. In 1676, Danish astronomer,Ole Christensen Roemerr, discovered the fact that light travels at finite but high speed while observing eclipses for Jupiter moons.

In 1865, James Clerk Maxwell, a British physicist, proposed a theory which unified partial theories used to explain electricity and magnetism . Interestingly since newton’s law had eliminated the idea of absolute rest, to explain the constant speed for the light (electromagnetic waves) that he invented to a matter called ether so that he can say that speed of light is constant relative to ether that fills up all the empty space.

In   1887, Albert Michelson (Later to become First American to win Nobel prize in sciences) and Edward Morley conducted experiment where they tried to measure speed of light in the direction of earth’s motion as well as right angle to it. If earth was orbiting around sun in ether, speed measure while in the direction of earth’s motion would be higher than the one measured while at right angle. BUT, experiments found the speed to  be exactly same!

Between 1887-1905 there were several attempts to explain this observation. In 1905, Albert Einstein, pointed out in his famous paper that idea of ether was unnecessary if we abolish the idea of absolute time. Einstein chose to disagree with fundamental beliefs of Aristotelian/Newtonian beliefs of absolute time. Similar point was made by leading french mathametician Henri Poincare.

With famous equation, E=Mc^2, there is direct relation between energy and mass of the body. So as energy of the object increases, it would also increase the mass of the energy since c=speed of light is constant. So as objects starts accelerating, it would add to its mass and in turn it will get difficult to accelerate.

Now here is the part I did not get from the book, Hawking mentions that at 10% of the speed of light there would be 0.5% increase in mass and at around 90%, mass would be more than double and as it approaches speed of light, mass would be so huge that it would be impossible to move the object and hence it is impossible to go beyond speed of light. So according to theory of relativity only ‘things” that can achieve speed of light are the things that don’t have any mass such as electromagnetic waves. I don’t understand why M would grow infinitely if the speed of light itself is finite.

So if the beam of light was observed by two observers (one stationary and one moving at X speed), then since…

  1. Distance = Speed * Time
  2. Distance is different

According to Newton’s law, since distance is different and time is absolute there would be two different speeds of light but in relativity theory if we make speed of light constant then guess what needs to change, TIME. That means same event would take two different times for two different observers.

A Brief History of ‘A Brief history of Time’

Started reading “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking. It is an old book and I had always heard a lot about it. Finally got around to reading it.. This book definitely makes me feel little stupid because some of the things he talks about, I just don’t get it. Maybe it will take few more books on relativity to really understand or maybe life time is not enough to understand the work done by these really smart people.  What fascinates me about theoretical physics is that the fact that the way it is explained in this book, it almost sounds like a philosophy rather than science, in fact it many of the early ideas/theories were put forward by philosophers. Maybe all different branches of science merge in one pure form of knowledge at certain point. First few pages, he talks about different theories or models that we had since as early as 340 BC to explain the nature of the universe. I just wanted to capture it in condensed version of it.

As Early as 340 BC, Greek philosopher Aristotle in his book, On the Heavens, talked about earth being a round sphere rather than flat plate. Three main observations made him think so….

    1. During eclipses of moon earth’s shadow on moon was always round, which would only be true of the earth was spherical.
    2. Different positions of north star from different positions of earth (Egypt and Greece). North start would appear directly over head at north pole Vs just over horizon when you go to Equator.
    3. Sails of the ship are seen before their hail when they come over the horizon

 Aristotle also though that earth was stationary and whole universe, the sun, the moon, the stars and planets revolved around the earth.

This idea was elaborated by Ptolemy in 2nd century AD. He put forward model where earth stood at the center of 8 other spheres (each one for the sun, the moon and fixed stars as well as 5 planets known at the time). Although it was not universally accepted, it was adopted by Christian church because it left room outside those 8 spheres for heaven and hell.

In 1514, polish priest Nicholus Copernicus, proposed a model where the sun stood at the center and earth and other planets moved around it in circular orbit.

After a century, around 1609, death blow to Aristotelian/Ptolemaic theory came when German, Johannes Kepler and Italian, Galileo Galilei supported Copernicus’s model for universe. In that year, Galileo started observing sky using the telescope. Galileo observed that Jupiter’s moons moved around it and since to make the really revolve around earth, they would have to follow extremely complicated path. In stead it was much easier to use Copernicus model and say that everything does not revolve around earth.

At the same time, Kepler, modified Copernicus theory and said planets move around sun in Eclipse and not in circle. This took care of mismatch between Copernicus model and actual observation made of planetary motion. Though, having found this by accident, he did not reconcile the orbit path with believed force (magnetic force) that was causing the motion.

This explanation was provided by Sir Isaac Newton in his, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, using gravitation force. He not only put forward theory that explained planetary motion but also invented mathematics needed to analyze the same that we all know “lovingly” as calculus. Newton realized that, according to his theory, gravitations force will eventually make everything collapse to one point. in a letter in 1691, to Richard Bentley, another leading thinker, Newton argued that it would have happened if Universe was finite space with finite numbers stars but if universe was infinite space with infinite number of starts more or less uniformly distributed, then they would have one central place to fall to.

Another big question plaguing the great minds of all ages has always been when/why/how the universe was created. One argument for the necessity of have a reason/time/method for creation was to have “first cause”. Within universe if you explain every event  has cause-effect relationship with another event then universe itself could only be explained in those terms.

St Augustine, in his City of God, accepted the date of 5000 BC as a date of creation of the universe according the book of genesis. Hawking mentions that is interesting that it is no so far away from 10000Bc, that is considered the end of last ice age and civilization really began. St Augustine also first introduced the idea that concept of time did not exist before the creation of universe. When asked “What did God do before he created universe”, he replied, Time was a property of the universe that God created and hence it did not exist before the universe was created”.

Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, believed that human race and its surrounding had existed for ever. The ancients had already considered the argument that history of civilization is more of a cycle that keeps on repeating that a one continuous progressive line.

In 1781, Philosopher, Immanuel Kant in his, Critique of Practical Reason (for some reason Hawking book calls it Pure instead of practical), called these questions antinomies because he though that there were compelling arguments for both side.

In 1929, Edwin Hubble, made a landmark discovery that distant galaxies are moving away, In other words, universe is expanding. this means at some point in time, all the matter in this universe was at a single point. This was the beginning of “Big Bang” theory.