An Open Letter to Chickens

Disclaimer: I am brain-damaged.

ChickenDear Chickens,

You are one of the most mysterious animals that exist on this tiny blueish speck we are obliged to call a planet. I have way too many questions and I have been wondering about them for way too long. I want answers, and I want them right now. If you fail to cooperate… well, let’s just say Chicken Biryani has always been one of my favourite dishes. I warn you, this is not an empty threat. You can go crying to PETA or wherever you want, but I will still carry out what I intend to do unless, of course, you give in to my demands. As they say, everything is fair in love and chicken curry.

My first question relates to your origins. I want you to tell me as soon as possible whether it was you that came first or whether it was the egg. Be very careful, I won’t tolerate any beating around the bush and lame word play. I want a crystal clear, single word answer. Was it you or the egg?

derrivative

Secondly, pray tell me guys… why, in the name of chicken sheesh kebabs, did you cross that bloody road? What, you’re offended by that are you? Well, mail that to someone who cares. I won’t tolerate any of that nonsensical neo-liberal propaganda you all are so deviously propagating. Stuff like, “I dream of a world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.” You damn rooster-necks think you’re pretty cunning, huh? You think I don’t understand what you master plan is? You think I don’t know that you’re all in it together, do you?

That fake innocent-looking clucking of yours and that mock stupidity you show may be good enough to fool the average Joe but it isn’t nearly sleek enough to deceive me. You need to try a little harder if you’re planning to convince the thinking man. You know what else I know, but you don’t know I know? You can fly. Yeah, you think you’re made everyone fall for your stupid ‘too-fat-to-fly” act, but I know. I know you can fly, I’ve seen you do it! You just pretend to be unable to fly in order to appease your bosses down in Antarctica, isn’t that correct?

Yeah. I know the penguins are your bosses. I’ve known that for a long time. Remember that ginger cat you though was on your side? Well, she was a double agent! Muhahaha. She worked for me. She told me all about your secret rituals. How you all send secret messages early in the morning when you think all us lazy dumb humans are asleep.

All that seemingly meaningless “Cuck-oroo Coo. Cluck. Cuck-oroo Coo.” You think I didn’t notice the hidden pattern? You think I was too retarded to crack the secret encryption codes you use? Well, you thought wrong! I know all about your cunning little plan of enslaving humans.

chicken fowl play

Your numbers have been growing, haven’t they? There are already more than 50 billion of you compared to only about 7 billion of us. On top of that, I have been told by good authority that you have already perfected the technology of light-sabers and ion-cannons. You have also figured out a way to destroy to us biologically from the inside using your secret ‘bird-flu’ project. So my last question is… why are you holding back? Why?

You can easily conquer the human race right now if you want to, so why wait? Is it, perhaps, because you’re plotting something even more evil? Or was your goal something other (and probably more sinister) than world domination from the very start? As I said earlier, I am not going to tolerate any of your false pretenses and lame excuses anymore. I want answers and I want them right now! Otherwise, you will be responsible for the consequences.

Yours carnivorously,
Muhammad “Chicken Hunter”  Tirmazi

 

Putting Things in Perspective

Note: This content of this post is similar enough to a previous post of mine titled We Are Negligible for the post to be mentioned here, but not enough for this post to be considered a sequel.

calvin-significant

The philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote in his essay, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,

Without man and his potential for moral progress, the whole of reality would be a mere wilderness, a thing in vain, and have no final purpose.

Like most philosophers, Kant had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Even if he did, his analysis is incorrect to the point of being considered self-centered and childish. Looking at the vastness of the cosmos and its grand scales (which I discussed in the post I linked above) does the hypotheses that without the existence of an insignificant collection of life-forms wandering on the surface of a speck of dust orbiting a tiny nuclear fusion reactor, one of billions spiraling around a black hole forming a structure that is just one of infinitely many in a universe (which might turn out to be just one of infinitely many other universes), that without the existence of these puny little beings, the whole of reality will descend into chaos hold weight?

Well, I don’t know about philosophy, but in the scientific point of view this assumption is preposterous. One must remember that for 99.9% of the about thirteen billion years of cosmic history, humans weren’t even around. Was the cosmos at that time any worse off without our existence? Of course not. On top of that, I hate to say it but (at the incredulously naively ridiculously over-optimistically estimated very very most) in about a couple billion years we won’t be around to make these nonsensical arrogant claims anymore. Here is a video that discusses the ultimate fate of the universe (it was made with the help of Caltech Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist Sean Carroll, so I’m guessing it’s pretty scientifically accurate) :

It seems depressing, right? Makes one feel insignificant. Putting things in the cosmic perspective may seem disconcerting, but it is a very nice means of self-improvement. For example, if Napoleon, Genghis Khan or any number of modern war-mongering generals and politicians were to stop and think for a moment in the cosmic perspective, perhaps along these lines:

I am about to send my army to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, fellow beings who share my moment in time. I am about to widow and orphan countless people. And after all this cruelty I’ll be able to claim ownership of a tiny portion of a microscopic dot which carries no particular significance in the cosmos. Is it all worth it?

Perhaps there would would be fewer wars and bloodshed and we’ll finally learn how to live in harmony respecting each other’s differences and treating each other as equals. Another good thing the cosmic perspective does is that it gets rid of your ego. It is impossible to contemplate about your existence and your place in the cosmos without developing humility. Here is a video of Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discussing one’s ego and its relation to the cosmic perspective:

One might ask, in all this emptiness, how does one add purpose and significance to one’s life? Well, if you measure your worth by the amount of lands you have conquered or the amount of wealth you have amassed then I don’t think being reminded of your place in the universe will give you any comfort as it will make you realize your insignificance even though you are trying hard to deceive yourself into believing you are important. On the other hand, if you measure your worth by the amount of people you have helped and influenced in your life and by the knowledge and understanding you have gained, then I think this perspective should be far more uplifting than it is depressing. In his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote (yes, I quote Carl Sagan a lot, deal with it):

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Maybe if we think of things in this perspective, perhaps there still might be some hope for us, as a species to one day end famine, reverse climate change, establish world-peace and journey to the planets and the stars. Until then, and once again I quote Carl Sagan, “for small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Finally, here is a photo called “Earthrise” taken by an astronaut during the Apollo 8 mission. It shows the beauty and fragility of the tiny planet we call home…

earthrise

The Awesomeness of Mark Twain

Mark Twain was one of the most awesome, hilarious, ingenious and original people in modern history. I’ll discuss a few of his funniest or most favourable aspects.

Originality

One of the things I like about Mark Twain is his originality. He didn’t bow to popular belief or peer pressure and change his opinions accordingly. His opinions were his alone. As an example, read his comments on Da Vinci’s the Mona Lisa…

To me it was merely a serene and subdued face, and there an end. There might be more in it, but I could not find it. The complexion was bad; in fact, it was not even human; there are no people that color.

At the start of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he wrote:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

I don’t understand the motive behind this statement, but I’m guessing this was actually a challenge to attempt all the things he warned not to do.

Premature Obituary

On June 1, 1897, the New York Herald, a widely read and popular daily American newspaper wrote an article in which it stated that Mark Twain was on the verge of death and that his thinking facilities had already been completely compromised. Ironically, Mark Twain was alive and well at the time. In fact, it was Mark Twain’s cousin J.R Clemens who was severely ill and had probably been the cause of the New York Herald‘s mistake. In an article titled “Mark Twain Amused” published the very next day in another newspaper, the Journal, Mark Twain made history by writing this ingenious comedic masterpiece:

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

This statement has been misquoted in many ways but, in my opinion, the original is still the funniest and most befitting.

 

Hatred for Jane Austen

One of the aspects of Mark Twain I like the most was his hatred for Jane Austen and the hilarious way in which he expressed it. Here are a few of his quotes that illustrate how much he detested Jane Austen and her works:

“Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

“Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her [Jane Austen] up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

“She makes me detest all her people, without reserve. Is that her intention? It is not believable. Then is it her purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art. It would be worth while, too. Some day I will examine the other end of her books and see.”

Perhaps it’s because I, too, share his prejudice towards Jane Austenish literature, but I find his statements to be humorous.

Interest in Science

Yes. Mark Twain was interested in science too. As I mentioned in a previous post, Mark Twain was a close friend of Nikola Tesla. Mark Twain also patented three inventions including the Elastic-Clasp Brassiere Strap which is used nowadays in women’s bras. In addition, Mark Twain also wrote one of the first novels related to time travel called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Here is a letter Mark Twain wrote to Nikola Tesla. I’m dead serious…

Letter Mark Twain Tesla

 

This is beside the point but to be frank, I don’t think Tesla ever invented a “destructive terror” but still, he invented lots of other great things that have shaped the modern world.

What’s the Deal with Billions and Billions?

billions-and-billions

Carl Sagan’s association with the term “billions and billions” is so popular that there’s actually a term called sagan which is synonymous to billions and billions. Sample usage: “There are sagans of stars in the Milky Way”. Ironically, although he often mentioned millions, trillion and miscellaneous -illions of things, Carl Sagan never actually used the term “billions and billions” exactly in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It was actually popularised by the comedian Johnny Carson who parodied Sagan. Luckily, Sagan took it to be good-natured humor and titled his last book Billions and Billions.

Here’s a collection of all the ‘-illions’ mentioned in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage:

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson faced a similar situation with the hilarious “We got a badass over here” meme nowadays. The meme is probably based on an interview he gave to the Youtube Channel BigThink, where he discussed Isaac Newton and his achievements. Once again, like Carl Sagan and the term billions and billions, Tyson never actually used the phrase “We got a badass over here” in the interview. It’s kind of hilariously unfortunate, in my opinion. :D

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Here’s the original interview, where Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed Isaac Newton:

And here’s a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson discussing the meme, it’s hilarious:

Random Interesting Facts

Mark Twain in Tesla’s laboratory.

Here are a few surprising and interesting facts I’ve come across.

  • Brian May, the guitarist of Queen, one of the most popular bands of all time, also has a PhD in Astrophysics from the Imperial College and was the chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University. source
  • The Elastic-Clasp Brassiere Strap used in women’s bras was invented by Mark Twain. source
  • Physicist Brian Cox was also the keyboard player for the rock band Dare. source
  • Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla were great friends and fan-boys of each other. source
  • There’s an entire society of people who believe the Earth is flat. source
  • There’s a person who claims to own the Moon. source
  • People in the United States and Canada mistook a 1938 radio adaptation of H.G Wells’ The War of the Worlds to be fact and began fleeing their homes. source
  • Richard Feynman played the bongo drums (you probably know this one, but anyway). source
  • Richard Feynman was also an artist. He exhibited his work under the pseudonym “Ofey”. source
  • Richard Feynman was also an expert on safe-cracking (dammit, is there anything Feynman hasn’t done? :D ). source
  • Niels Bohr cancelled his honeymoon to write a paper on Quantum Mechanics. source

Here’s a video of Richard Feynman playing the bongo drums (I’ve also linked it as the source of fact #8):

My personal favourite is the fact that Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla (who are, in my opinion, two of the greatest people in history) were friends. One can only imagine what their discussion would have been like.

Addendum

  • The maiden name of astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s mother was Marion Moon.

A Civilization Grading System?

Somewhere in the concluding paragraphs of a previous post, I wrote:

..we may in the distant future, …conquer the solar system, nigh, the galaxy, in the same way we conquered the earth.

This gives rise to a lot of questions. What does the term “conquer” mean in this context? Does it allude to physical occupation? Vanquishing, perhaps? Or utilizing all resources? And how do we measure our progress, anyway? For now, we don’t have any other species to compare with. What should we make our long-term goal?  What are our objectives?

astro_civ

Answers to some of the above questions were suggested by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. He created the Kardashev Scale, which is a way to measure a civilization’s technological advancement by looking at the amount of energy it is able to utilize. Basically it’s like a civilization grading system. Here’s a brief explanation of the Kardashev Scale, by Dr. Michio Kaku:

In other news, the Perimeter Institute published an interesting article on their website on what famous scientists (mostly physicists) did in their spare time. It’s a very good read. Check it out here.

Stalking Hawking

If newspapers can write articles upon articles concerning the personal lives and scandals of stupid celebrities and politicians, why can’t I write a blog post sharing internet links about one of the greatest physicists of our era? So here goes…

I found a hilarious interview of Stephen Hawking the other day conducted by British comedian John Oliver for his show Last Week Tonight.

Also take a look at other episodes of Last Week Tonight such as the one that deals with net neutrality. The show is funny and intelligent.

There’s also a playlist uploaded by the Science Channel containing Stephen Hawking narrating ten of his favourite jokes…

On top of that, the youtube series, “Epic Rap Battles of History”, produced an entertaining fictional rap battle between Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking:

Oh, and did I mention an interesting television broadcast featuring Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and the science-fiction writer Arthus C. Clare called “God, The Universe and Everything Else” ?

Lastly, be sure to read three of my favourite popular science books written by Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time, A Briefer History of Time and The Grand Design.

How to become a Theoretical Physicist – Part 3

quote-all-science-is-either-physics-or-stamp-collecting-ernest-rutherford-160682

Work Hard in College

One really needs an excellent (not just good or great, I mean excellent) GPA to get into a reputable international grad school. It is not just helpful, but absolutely essential to target a perfect 4.0 if one plans to move up about  a thousand places in the rankings and get admitted to grad schools like MIT or Stanford. One needs recommendation letters that say things like, “He’s the best student I have ever seen.”

If your undergraduate degree was not obtained from a top-ranked college, it is necessary to convince highly ranked graduate schools that the university you got your undergraduate degree from was way, way too easy for you. Doing this is only possible if you have consistently outstanding grades.

Don’t Waste Time doing Extra-curricular Activities

Unless they include research in a field related to your major with a professor or at a research lab, I don’t think extra-curricular activities increase your chances of getting into a good graduate school. In other words, if you want are applying for a doctorate in physics, having been part of model united nations clubs or religio-political student associations in your undergrad years won’t really help you much.

On top of that, taking part in an unnecessarily large amount of extra curricular activities can make students lose focus in their studies, resulting in lower GPAs.

Once Again, The Internet is Your Friend

I listed several helpful educational resources on the internet in my previous posts. Here are some more:

Ask Other Physicists

The biggest advantage of having an internet connection and access to science-related forums like the one I mentioned above is that you can discuss your problems with physicists around the world and listen to their advice. Often it turns out that they have been through similar problems and/or know a good solution.

Question Yourself

Ask yourself why you want to become a physicist in the first place. If it is for fame or money, then I don’t think physics is the right career for you. At any rate, I don’t think that’s the right attitude. Get a PhD in Physics only if you are genuinely passionate about it and want to make your own contribution to human knowledge and know more about the world.

Also, get rid of your ego. You don’t have to be right all the time. Sometimes it is far more noble to accept your mistakes, learn from them and move forward. That’s what science is all about.

Books Everyone Should Read

book

Some of the best books I’ve read till now, and think other people should read too…

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  2. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
  3. A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  4. The Time Machine by H. G Wells
  5. 1984 by George Orwell
  6. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G Wells
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir
  8. Contact by Carl Sagan
  9. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  10. What is Man? by Mark Twain
  11. The Adventures of Sherlock Homes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [1]
  12. The Big Four by Agatha Christie [2]
  13. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  14. The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  15. The Hound of Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  16. The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  17. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  18. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  19. The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking
  20. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  21. A Mathematician’s Apology by G. H. Hardy [3]
  22. Letters to A Young Mathematician by Ian Stewart
  23. The Character of Physical Law by Richard P. Feynman [4]

[1]: Including all the other short story collections Conan Doyle wrote about the fictional detective.

[2]: All the other novels in the Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie are awesome too.

[3]: Be sure to get the edition that has the introduction written by C. P. Snow

[4]: I watched the actual lectures instead of reading the book.

Books I regret reading and hate with a vengeance…

  1. All the nonsense written by Jane Austen
  2. All the nonsense written by Louisa May Alcott
  3. All the nonsense written by J. K Rowling
  4. All the nonsense written by Enid Blyton
  5. All the nonsense written by C. S Lewis

Becoming A Theoretical Physicist – Phase 2

sagan

One of the biggest challenges I have faced is to keep myself motivated and interested. I try to keep myself involved in ‘sciency’ stuff to prevent the (very improbable) chances of me giving up all together and start studying something like business or worse… the humanities. Oh, the humanity! (Get it? Lame joke, I know. My sense of humor is non-existent)

Watch COSMOS

The biggest problem I am encountering is lack of motivation and the tendency to procrastinate. COSMOS comes in handy whenever morale gets dangerously low. Seriously, it’s the best television series ever. I’ve watched all thirteen parts COSMOS: A Personal Voyage thrice. For now, I’ve only watched one part of COSMOS: A Space-Time Odyssey. I try to catch the show on the National Geographic Channel whenever possible.

The Internet is your Friend

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There are lots of awesome channels on Youtube that keep me interested and up-to-date on science related stuff. The ones I watch regularly are:

  • Sci Show
  • VSauce
  • The PBS Idea Channel
  • Minute Physics
  • Minute Earth
  • Sixty Symbols
  • Numberphile
  • Computerphile
  • CGP Grey
  • MentalFloss
  • Vihart

On top of that there are also channels and websites that actually help me (and a lot) in understanding the stuff I self-learn. Two of my favourite are:

Social Media is Your Enemy

Facebook is the biggest waste of time humanity has heard of. I once watched a TED Conference by some electronic (or telecommunication) engineer where the growing innovation in Africa was discussed. In the middle of it, the guy said something like,

So…why is most of the innovation now happening in Africa? Because the rest of the world is busy checking their facebook.

I agree with him completely. Twitter’s even worse.

Social Media is also Your Friend

Okay. Believe it or not, I found out a neat way to convert both Facebook and Twitter from the irrational and illogical overly argumentative hatred-inciting intolerant lunatic asylums they are to significantly more informative and educational (yes, educational!) places. Here’s what I did.

Facebook: Unliked all religio-political, nationalistic, meme-ridden, humorous, sports-related and miscellaneous nonsensical pages and left out only strictly scientific and informative pages. Some nice ones I left out include:

  • From Quarks to Quasars
  • I F***ing Love Science
  • Our Place in the Cosmos
  • Bill Nye – The Science Guy

Next, I un-followed most of the overly political or religious people in my friend list along with all the people who tended to share a lot of time-wasting stuff like cliched jokes and memes and people I didn’t really care that much about. (I didn’t unfriend them, just un-followed them. This way I can avoid seeing their posts in my news feed and yet not declare social warfare against them).

Twitter: Followed a similar procedure. Un-followed most people, leaving out only people who gave educational, informative or inspirational tweets. Some of the people I still follow include Neil de-Grasse Tyson, Dr. James Grime, Numberphile, CarlSaganQuoted, ThisDayinMath etc.

Avoid Sports and News like the Plague

Another redundant waste of time. I tried a bunch of rehab tactics to reduce my cricket-watching addition. First, I cut out watching all the preliminary matches. Waste of time. If there’s a big competition, I don’t start keeping track of the Pakistani team until it reaches the semi-finals (it almost always reaches the semi-finals because we’re awesome).

Next, I don’t watch the first half/innings/whatever-it’s-called anymore. Most of the stuff gets done in the second half anyway. If it’s a fifty over match, I only watch the first ten and the last ten overs. That’s when all the boundaries are usually made. The rest is just mindless running between the wickets. In T20s, I only watch the last 5-6 overs. Also, if it looks like Pakistan’s losing, I just leave. No point watching the rest of the game. Even if, by some chance, Pakistan manages to win, someone will tell me anyway.

I don’t watch news, like, at all. My main sources of news and international political analyses are passing conversations with my mother, and I usually forget most of it by the end of the hour. Life is exponentially happier when one is socially irresponsible, unaware of contemporary global issues and completely unpatriotic.

Read Science-Fiction

I like Science Fiction. Some of my favourites are:

  • Contact by Carl Sagan
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Time Machine by H G Wells
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Write Blog Posts about Physics

Like this one.