A few quotes from my favorite books read in 2013

“We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.”
― Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

“It’s the reason we say “pork” and “beef” instead of “pig” and “cow.” Dissection and surgical instruction, like meat-eating, require a carefully maintained set of illusions and denial.”
― Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

“Why do you wear a mask and hood?”
I think everybody will in the near future,” was the man in black’s reply. “They’re terribly comfortable.”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

“You seem a decent fellow,” Inigo said. “I hate to kill you.”
“You seem a decent fellow,” answered the man in black. “I hate to die.”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

“One must drop all presuppositions and dogmas and rules – for there only lead to stalemate or disaster; one must cease to regard all patients as replicas, and honor each one with individual reactions and propensities; and, in this way, with the patient as one’s equal, one’s co-explorer, not one’s puppet, one may find therapeutic ways which are better than other ways, tactics which can be modified as occasion requires.”
― Oliver Sacks, Awakenings

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
― Elie Wiesel, Night

“Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.”
― Elie Wiesel, Night

“There is not love of life without despair about life.”
― Albert Camus, The Stranger

“If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.”
― Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm

“I don’t care if I pass your test, I don’t care if I follow your rules. If you can cheat, so can I. I won’t let you beat me unfairly – I’ll beat you unfairly first. – Ender ”
― Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

“Unless, of course, there’s no such thing as chance;…in which case, we should either-optimistically-get up and cheer, because if everything is planned in advance, then we all have a meaning and are spared the terror of knowing ourselves to be random, without a why; or else, of course, we might-as pessimists-give up right here and now, understanding the futility of thought decision action, since nothing we think makes any difference anyway, things will be as they will. Where, then, is optimism? In fate or in chaos?”
― Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

“I admit it: above all things, I fear absurdity.”
― Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

Democracy, Civilization and Nation

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:

  • from bondage to spiritual faith
  • from spiritual faith to great courage
  • from courage to liberty
  • from liberty to abundance
  • from abundance to selfishness
  • from selfishness to complacency
  • from complacency to apathy
  • from apathy to dependency
  • from dependency back to bondage."

This quotation has been attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler but there is no reliable record of Alexander Tytler having made the statement.

Source: Wikipedia

So, What is time?

A Reddit user asks the community: What is time?

A user who goes by the name of Amadiro replies:

Einstein showed us that space and time are inextricably linked, and really form one four-dimensional framework he called space-time. The laws of physics do not really say anything about direction in either space or time — they are symmetric, and events happen the same, regardless whether time runs forwards or backwards, or in which manner the events are oriented in space. Yet time does not seem to be symmetric — it seems to flow into one direction. We can remember the past, but we cannot remember the future. This phenomena is called a "time arrow", and we can think of (at least) 3 such arrows existing:

  • The cosmological arrow, i.e. the direction the universe is expanding (the other direction would be contracting)
  • The thermodynamic arrow (Entropy always increases)
  • The psychological arrow (we remember yesterday but not tomorrow)

Lets start with explaining the thermodynamic arrow, and why the psychological arrow and the thermodynamic arrow really are the same:

The thermodynamic arrow says that order always decreases, such that the net energy inside a system that is available for work decreases. One can think of a cup to be in a fairly ordered state, whereas a bunch of broken shards are in a more unordered state, so the entropy was increased. Even though the laws of physics are symmetric, this is how we could easily distinguish between a film played forwards or backwards; if we see a film of a cup falling down a table and breaking into many pieces, we know immediately the film is played forwards, but if we see a bunch of pieces gathering together and suddenly jumping up the table, we know the film plays backwards, as such an occurrence never happens in real life. The key to understanding why this works in one direction, but not the other, is to understand that the other way around isn’t impossible; it’s just exceedingly unlikely. If one considers a bunch of atoms in a particular configuration, and then randomizes the system, there are many many states the system can end up in, but there are always much much more states in which the system is unordered rather than ordered. So it is simply extremely unlikely that a system would ever end up in a state more ordered, as there are always infinitely (?) more states that are unordered for the system to fall into. One can compare this to a solved puzzle inside its box; there is one and only one configuration of the puzzle pieces in which they form an image, but many many states in which they just appear unordered. So one can imagine this to be like a string of states with events in the middle, and the state on one end is ordered, whereas the state on the other end is almost surely unordered.

Now for the psychological arrow. As stated earlier, the psychological arrow (how we perceive time to flow into one direction, but never the other) is really just the same as the thermodynamic arrow. The thermodynamical error tells us that when changes are applied to a system, the system will usually be ordered on one side of the event, and unordered on the other side, but why do we perceive it to go from ordered to unordered, and not the other way around? To explain this, we can reason about a computer, which, arguably works roughly the same as the human memory (at least in terms of the psychological arrow; just as a human brain, a computer cannot remember the future), and, to make it simpler, we consider a simple abacus. Assuming the abacus starts in an unordered state, and we want to store some numbers on the abacus, we will need to move some of the pearls around, and after that transformation, the abacus will be in a state of higher order. However, to move the pearls around, we need to expend work, which, in term, increases the net entropy in the universe around us by many many magnitudes compared to the small decrease in entropy we applied to the abacus. This is pretty much dictated to be so by the thermodynamic arrow, which says that entropy always has to increase, so it is not possible to remember something the other way around, because to remember something, we have to increase the net entropy of the universe, and that only works in one direction, essentially. This is the reason we can remember what happened yesterday but not tomorrow, and because we can remember what happened in time "before" now, we psychologically perceive time to be "flowing" in one direction (but one could argue that it is not any more flowing in one direction as space is). So whichever way the arrow of entropy points, our perception of time also has to point. One could imagine another universe, where the arrow of thermodynamics is reversed, and broken shards would suddenly jump together and form a cup sitting on a table, and people would remember tomorrow rather than yesterday — but then, their psychological arrow of time would be the other way around, and they would perceive their world to be normal, just as we do.

That still leaves the question of the cosmological arrow. Why does the universe expand in the same direction the thermodynamical arrow points? Could it possibly be the other way around? The only way I have of answering this, is based on the anthropic principle: if it was the other way around, according to our understanding of modern physics, the fundamental preconditions for atoms to exist would likely not be given, and thus no life could evolve, and nobody could be there to ask the question "why is the cosmological arrow pointing in the same direction as the thermodynamical arrow?". Thus we can reason that we could not have found this to be any different than we have, because all life that could possibly evolve in the universe would evolve during the period of expansion, not contraction (given there is such a phase).

Of course this leaves many questions still unanswered, but I hope this gives you some perspective on what time is, and it sheds some light on common questions like "what came before the big bang?" (if time is really just another dimension, and the dimensions where created by the big-bang, asking the question of what came before is of course meaningless.)
I can recommend reading Stephen Hawkings "A brief history of time" if you want a more in-depth explanation. Many of the examples and principles I listed here are directly or indirectly taken from his work, and he manages to convey complicated concepts quite simple and convincingly.

Source: Reddit

Context Menu Search (for Chrome)

This extension can be used to search for selected text using the context menu. Different search engines can be added according to the user’s wish to the right-click menu. The search results are shown in a new background tab. The order of the search engines in the right-click menu can also be arranged. A list of 35 commonly used search engines has been added so that users can choose easily. If needed, the user can also add an option which has not been included.

Download (via Extension Gallery)


Example Menu

You need at least Chrome version 6.0.472 to install and use this extension. If needed, you can install from any channel you want here: http://www.chromium.org/getting-involved/dev-channel#TOC-Windows

The options page:


2.0:  Added options for the user to choose if the search results show in a background or foreground tab. They can also pick whether the new tab opens next to the current tab or at the end. A list of 35 search engines has been added as options for the user to add.
1.5:  The order of the search options can now be re-arranged.
1.0:  Users can now add as many search engines to the right click menu as they want. An existing option can now be disabled or deleted if not required.
0.9:  Added the ability for enabling/disabling particular search engines. Users can also customize which search engines they want and what the name of the search engine in the list should be.
0.5: Added Bing images to default pack

IITG Newsgroup Quickview (Chrome/Firefox)

For the use of IIT Guwahati residents only!

Use this extension to quickly view the posts without leaving the index page. This makes browsing the newsgroup very easy as compared to the original interface.This extension adds a ‘>>’ button to the right of every post title on the newsgroup index page. Clicking on it will open the post below the title in a box of its own. Clicking on the button again will close the box.

For Chrome: Download (via extension gallery)

For Firefox : Download (zip)

For installing the addon for firefox, extract the zip archive and open the newsgroup.xpi file with Firefox and proceed. There will be no updates for the Firefox version of the addon.


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iGoogle Super Cleanup (for Chrome)

iGoogle is very popular as the homepage of many people. It provides quick access to many things such as Gmail, Reader, News etc and yet loads very quickly.The default view of iGoogle has space set aside for the Google search bar and the theme image. This takes up a lot of space on the page. This extension is used to hide the search bar and/or the left navigation area on the iGoogle page to maximize the screen area available for your gadgets.

Most people are habituated to using the search/address bar in chrome for performing their searches. This makes the search bar on the iGoogle page redundant and hiding it from view makes more of your gadgets visible. If and when needed, the search bar can be viewed by clicking the ‘Show/Hide Search’ button at the top.

Similarly, you can use the ‘Show/Hide Navbar’ button to show or hide the navigation area (including Chat) at the left of the page.

The default appearance of the iGoogle page when first opened can be set via the Options page.

Download (via Extension gallery)



Using the Windows Live Writer

What is it?

It is a desktop publishing application for publishing content to your website(blog). Its most compelling feature is that it uses WYSIWYG environment unlike the interface provided by your blogging software.

How to get it?

The Windows Live Writer is available as an update to Windows 7 via Windows Update along with other goodies such as Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Movie Maker.

How to connect it to my blog?

When you launch Windows Live Writer for the first time, it will ask you a series of questions in a wizard which will include things such as the type of blogging software in use and the blog address. This wizard can be used to add multiple blogs via Blogs->Add blog accounts later.

The first step

You also need to provide it with an account username and password which has the rights to publish content on the website.

Provide the details

After you provide the details correctly, it will attempt to connect to the website and verify the details.

Analyzing the blog

It will download the theme and other features to set up the WYSIWYG environment for posting content on the site. After this you will be asked for a nickname for the blog and if you want to share it via your Windows Live account.

How to create a post?

After completing the above steps, you will be presented with the main window. Here you can choose ‘File->New Post’ or ‘File->New Page’ to create a Post or a Page respectively. You will be shown an empty post with the theme set to the theme that you are using on the website. You can start typing as in any word processing application. All the editing and formatting tools work exactly the same. In the end just use the ‘Publish’ button or ‘File->Publish’ to Blog to post the content to your website.

Blog away!