Jag Venugopal's Blog

March 7, 2012

What Brings The Greatest Joy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 10:49 pm

I’ve had a career situation that got me thinking about what brings a person the greatest fulfillment and pleasure.

For me, I’ve realized that the greatest fulfillment comes from being useful to others.I’ve felt miserable when my work impacted no one. And, even if a particular project or initiative was wretched, I could look back on it with satisfaction if it helped some set of people in some way.

The beauty about the giving of oneself to others is that we can do it no matter what our station in life. The janitor has as much of a chance of being useful to someone else, as does the president of the United States. Whatever our vocation might be, by doing the things we do, we have the potential to improve the lives of our fellow humans, and thereby increase our own sense of self-worth and happiness.

Being useful to others does not have to be entirely altruistic. I believe that you can derive as much pleasure and satisfaction fromsellinga product that many millions will use (see Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) as you can fromgiving awaysomething that will benefit many (e.g. Linus Torvalds, initial author of the Linux kernel). Steve Jobs’ best work came after he probably knew that his diagnosis was terminal. In the years since 2003, he led the creation of Apple’s two major blockbusters… the iPhone and iPad. Surely, he did not do this for money, because he knew that he was not long for this world, and the prospects of taking one’s riches into the next are nonexistent. In my reading, he was driven by the desire to create great products that people liked — he got his satisfaction from being useful to others.

Indeed, the pioneers of the railroad, the automobile and the plane invented and perfected these things owing to capitalistic motives. Yet, there can be no denying the vast benefits of their work on the populace.

The absolute worst situation in life, as I consider it, is being in a position where the work you do matters to no one. Get into the universe of Downton Abbey, and think of Lord Grantham, just after war had broken out, but before his house was converted into a convalescent center. He felt miserable because he was all dressed up but, totally unwanted by those on the front. And this man was an Earl, with servants to wait on him hand and foot, with possessions to match. His malcontent second daughter, Edith, found fulfillment at last in tending to the sick and wounded.

You may be in possession of the finest things in the world, but if your existence or lack thereof is immaterial to your fellow humans, you will never find true happiness. Conversely, if you’re feeling low for whatever reason, recall a time when your work impacted others positively. I guarantee that it will lift your spirits.

January 31, 2012

Friendly and charming ways…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 10:46 pm

People who know me wouldn’t associate words like ‘attracted’, and ‘charming’ with yours truly. But I still hold out hope that this fortune cookie knows something about me that I don’t know about myself :).

 

January 28, 2012

What if Neil Armstrong had been unsuccessful?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 10:12 pm

One of the joys of visiting Washington DC is being able to see documents in the National Archives, such as the original copy of the Constitution. Another, very interesting document I saw was a contingency plan for a speech to be delivered if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did not make it off the moon. Below is the letter from the National Archives, courtesy of a link from Letters of Note.

December 2, 2011

Experiences with a new telescope

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 6:48 am

After about a year of watching the sky with binoculars, we finally decided to buy an honest-to-goodness telescope. After much research, we narrowed in on the Meade ETX 90, a highly regarded scope in many reviews. We ordered from Adorama through the Amazon marketplace.

Sadly, when you buy from an Amazon seller, it is not the same buying experience as purchasing from Amazon. I was shipped what was clearly a demo product, with signs of shelf wear. The tripod was missing. And I was charged the full price. Long story short, it took nearly a week to convince them to take it all back and refund my money.

Simultaneously, I developed cold feet about the ETX-90 after learning that the manufacturer had placed it on closeout. Telescopes are precision optical instruments, and especially considering the amount of plastic on the ETX-90, I was worried that the availability of spares would soon become an issue.

I chose the Celestron 4SE because it had the same technology as the ETX-90 (Maksutov-Cassegrain, 4 inch) and looked like it was going to stay in production. Ordering from Amazon was super-fast. I placed the order on Friday and asked for it to be shipped overnight for $3.99. Amazon actually fedexed the whole thing to my home for Saturday delivery. They’re the only company that will ship a huge package (size of two full suitcases) to a customer’s home overnight for under 4 dollars. (Yes, I do pay for Prime, but even then…)

My daughter and I eagerly put the whole ensemble together, only to discover that the star pointer would not work. And, with it now being the weekend, we had to wait until Monday to order a replacement part from Celestron. When I did call them, however, they were pretty good about agreeing to ship a replacement right away. In the mean time, with the right amount of tapping and twisting the star pointer, we managed to overcome the loose contact and get it to work for the time being.

 Finally getting the telescope out on a clear night taught us our first lesson… the goto function on the scopes require fairly precise alignment, and even then, its not spot-on. After spending time aligning the scope by making it level and centering two or three separate known stars, the telescope travel was only approximate. Telescope manufacturers’ marketing materials would have you believe that the computer-controlled goto feature is precise and takes you exactly where you want to go. The reality is that it requires a lot of setup and fiddling, and at best you get a decent approximation.

For all our troubles, what have we seen so far? Stunning images of the moon’s craters. Jupiter and its moons, with the cloud bands clearly visible. Uranus (although very small), the trapezoid in the Orion nebula, the doubles in Castor and Polaris, and Andromeda. Individual stars such as Betelgeuse were very beautiful, with their reddish color clearly visible.

Right now, we’re just getting going figuring out all the bells and whistles. The next few weeks seem promising, once we’ve ironed out the kinks in the goto feature.

October 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 8:10 am

From Reddit:

September 22, 2011

Faster than the speed of light?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 9:00 pm

The world of physics is abuzz with the news that researchers in Switzerland and Italy have discovered subatomic particles known as neutrinos that can travel faster than the speed of light.

Much of physics is based on an assumption that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. In fact, it is this assumption that causes clocks to slow down on GPS satellites, and allows for the theoretical possibility of slowing down aging (just go round and round the earth at or near the speed of light. Your clock will run slower than the clocks on terra firma. After a while, the  accumulated differential will make you noticeably younger than the poor souls that did not hitch the same ride as you).

It is also this assumption that makes Star Wars fiction. You cannot visit other galaxies within your lifetime if you’re constrained to never be able to go faster than the speed of light. With the Milky Way being 100,000 light years across, its a given you won’t be able to cross a thousandth of its diameter even if you set off in infancy on a rocket traveling as fast as the speed of light.

On the other hand, if these sprightly neutrinos do indeed travel faster than the speed of light, then the obvious conclusion is that the speed of light is not an absolute limit. There may be other things, as yet undiscovered, that travel even faster. And, we or our descendants may yet get to ride on the Millennium Falcon with its hyperdrive motivator blazing us away to other galaxies.

September 11, 2011

Now showing: A beautiful celestial sight

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 7:08 pm

Driving home from a weekend outing, we saw the sky and noticed the planes queued up to land in Boston. One particular plane seemed to be brighter than the others, and was missing the characteristic blinking and red lights. We figured it was a blimp over the Gillette Stadium and that a football game must be underway.

When we went home and still found the bright yellowish spot lingering in the sky, Prerna and I decided we had to see what it was. We could see it clearly with the naked eye, but fired up the trusty Celestron 15×70’s for a closer look. What we saw blew us away. Visible clearly and large, right outside our deck was Jupiter and three of its moons. The planet was rivaled in size only by our own moon. And, at 10:00 PM at night, the angle to the horizontal was comfortable for handheld binoculars.

A greater treat awaited us when we mounted the Galileoscope on an old and wobbly photo tripod. Once we got all the vibrations under control, we could clearly see the horizontal bands of Jupiter, along with its moons. It couldn’t be any clearer.

Look for Jupiter in your night sky, and finagle either a low-power telescope or a nice pair of binoculars to look at it. At northern US latitudes, the brightest “star”, low in the east-southeast sky around 9:30 PM is likely to be what you’re looking for. An easy find, and a treat for the eyes.

August 27, 2011

Finally, success with Andromeda

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 2:57 pm

My daughter and I took up skywatching, beginning late last winter. The first few months were very interesting… there were many nights when the sky was clear, and sunset was rather early. One could grab an early bite, watch the sky and still go to bed at a sane hour.

Sadly, summer has been a washout with cloudy skies. On the few days the sky was clear, either sunset was late, or the moon was out in full force, overpowering all but the brightest stars.

Last week, we finally got a night to watch the skies, without the moon getting in the way. We were out at about 9:30 PM. The skies were still not completely dark, but the stars were still out in force. We finally located the one object that we were looking for all spring and summer… Andromeda. This galaxy is 2.5 million light years away from us, and is one of the largest in our close vicinity. And, if you were to survive for another 5 billion years, you might just get to witness its collision with the Milky Way. Right now, it is approaching the encounter at a leisurely 140 kilometers per second.

Our implements in this quest were simple… a star chart, a pair of binoculars, a Celestron SkyScout, and a red flashlight. Andromeda resembled a largish smudge in the binoculars. Those breathtaking pictures you see on web sites were all captured with very expensive telescopes by professional astronomers. Nonetheless, the best picture of Andromeda cannot compare with the joy of seeing it with one’s own eyes, and imagining that on a planet somewhere in that galaxy of a trillion stars, there might be a father and daughter similarly searching for the Milky Way from their backyard.

This week, with hurricane Irene about to bear down on us, skywatching seems a remote possibility. But for sure, Prerna and I will be out in the backyard at the first hint of clear, dark skies, to continue indulging in our shared delight.

November 4, 2010

Why I will not give money to charity through a corporation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 11:25 pm

Not a day passes when I don’t walk into a store, conduct my purchase, and the sales person asks me if I wish to donate a dollar to this, that or the other charity. It seems as though one is constantly bombarded with solicitations for small amounts that are hard to resist, yet add up in the aggregate.

My opposition to such corporate charity endeavors is simple. Each corporation (whether it is Stop and Shop, Radio Shack, or anyone else) is not soliciting charity dollars out of altruism. There is a very significant benefit that accrues to the company running the charity drive: free publicity and free publicity. RadioShack or Stop and Shop can claim that its customers and employees donated X hundred thousand for Y worthy cause. In conducting this drive, neither company spent a dime… it was all customer money.

I do not want my money providing free publicity to a corporation, or providing it fodder for a press release.

A corporation has one, and exactly one purpose: to deliver maximum profits to its shareholders while working in a lawful manner. Non-profits have exactly one purpose, too: to deliver on their mission, at lowest cost to whoever is providing them funding. When companies get into funnelling charitable dollars, they take freedom away from their stakeholders (shareholders, customers, employees) in determining how to utilize the proceeds. Some stakeholders may be Catholic and want to give exclusively to charities of their faith. Others may be Jewish, Evangelical, Hindu, Muslim or Atheist, and have their own particular preferences as to who gets their money. Certain stakeholders may want to give to pro-life organizations, while others want to give to pro-choice charities. When an individual does not have control of their charitable giving, they lose the right to direct the money to their favored cause.

 Indeed, those of us that have been blessed have a duty and responsibility to share those who are of more limited means. Each individual has a moral obligation to give, consistent with their own principles, the dictates of their faith, and their abillity to give. Matthew 6:2 sums up beautifully how one ought to give: privately, and without seeking recognition or honor.

PS: With all this said, there is one instance where I will give through an employer. When the company matches donations, and has a broad, unrestricted list of potential recipients. If my donation is multiplied with a corporate match (single, double or triple), then I will take advantage of it. Sure, the shareholders of the company have cause to take issue with such a policy (see above), but I, as an employee, do not object.

June 24, 2010

Don’t Like Your Grades, We’ll Fix Them

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 1:46 pm

The New York Times reports that law schools are retroactively improving students’ grades to help them find a job in this economy. I can almost see the mailings now…

Dear Mr. Jar Jar Binks,

You will be happy to know that your law degree is now worth more! We have retroactively changed your CGPA from 2.0 to 3.5. We hope this will better help you find employment. Please do not forget our endowment when your new GPA starts bringing in the big bucks. If you want further improvement in your scores from a decade ago, please do not hesitate to speak with our endowment director. I’m sure we can work something out.

Sincerely,

Boss Nass

Dean

Gungan School of Law

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