Porcupyn's Blog

July 18, 2016

My Plan by Marchette Chute

Filed under: Uncategorized — Porcupyn @ 6:33 am

A long time ago, I had read this poem in school. For some reason, I happened to remember it a few minutes ago. Thankfully, I was able to google it successfully (in spite of my minimal googling skills).



July 9, 2016

Drainage basins … and more

Filed under: Geography,Travel — Porcupyn @ 8:02 pm

I had not really paid much attention to this statistic before a friend posted about it on his social media. My trivia information was previously limited only to the length of rivers and, to a very limited extent, the discharge. And even what I knew about the discharge turned out to be incorrect for the most part! And when I started googling, I learned more than I had ever hoped to learn. So, here is a summary of what I found out – you are welcome to follow the links and learn more!

A drainage basin is the area of land from where all precipitation drains to a common destination. For example, the drainage basin of a river is all of the land from where it collects its water from (which obviously comes from the skies as precipitation, i.e., rainfall or snow). What is weird, and this is something I was unaware of, is that folks in USA refer to this as the watershed as well (and having lived in the USA for nearly three decades, this was what I was used to as well). However, it appears that outside of the USA, the watershed refers to the perimeter of this drainage basin, not the basin itself.

What was really surprising for me was how the rivers of the world get ranked based on length, water discharge and drainage/catchment basin size. Without further ado, here are the rankings (by river):

By drainage basin:

  • Amazon
  • Congo
  • Nile

By length:

  • Nile
  • Amazon
  • Yangtze

By discharge volume:

  • Amazon
  • Congo
  • Ganga-Brahmaputra-Padma (I don’t know why/when Padma got renamed as Meghna, or have I been mistaken all along? Upon further googling, it appears that Padma becomes Meghna!)

It was a revelation that the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Padma river was number three in the world in terms of discharge volume and that Nile and Missouri-Mississippi were nowhere among the top rivers. I had read about the Missouri-Mississippi being among the longest rivers, but it didn’t make the top five. So now, I wonder how the lengths are/were calculated – were the lengths being combined when they counted it as one of the top three? One thing that strikes me as unfair is how the rivers are named. I don’t recall reading about the Parana river in Geography (maybe because we learned of it as Rio de la Plata). However, it appears to be the longest river in South America behind the Amazon. But what is weird is that it drains into the Rio de la Plata, which is a runt of a river – just 290 km in length! It would be more correct, in my opinion, for the longest river to keep its name throughout (though this might result in the Ganga being renamed as Yamuna past Allahabad!!).

Another interesting way to rank the rivers would be by depth (another parameter I had not thought of previously, until I read about the Congo being the deepest river). So, here are the rivers ranked by depth (well, I stopped after Congo as it appears that this is not a verified figure for rivers and even for Congo, it does not sustain this depth for a long time):

  • Congo

Fast fact: Did you know that the flow of the Amazon is so powerful that no bridges can be built across it?

Trivia question: Which river flows through the most capitals (of countries)?

December 10, 2015

Whatever happens in Las Vegas …

Filed under: Family,Geography,Humour,Travel — Porcupyn @ 7:02 am

… obviously, stays in Las Vegas. But I surely can talk about what happened outside of Las Vegas, no?

During the Thanksgiving hols (for kids, more than us parents), we had an opportunity to claim a decent hotel rate and airfare, so decided to take the plunge and plan a trip to Las Vegas. Mrs. Porcupyn and I took three days off work apiece for this purpose.

The original plan was to leave on Friday evening, the week before Thanksgiving, and return next Friday, i.e., Black Friday. However, Katya’s soccer schedule interfered (which, in hindsight, was good – she managed to participate in her first non-loss game). As a result, we rescheduled to leave on Monday morning and return on Saturday night.

Our initial thought was to hang around Las Vegas for three days and then head over to San Diego and spend three days there (or the other way around) before returning. However, the changed schedule resulted in the loss of a day. Besides, by this time, I had realized that though Las Vegas proper might not be my cup of tea, there was plenty to do in the surrounding area by way of nature. So, even a week exclusively devoted to a stay in Las Vegas appeared to fall short of stuff that I wanted us to do.

So, we decided to limit ourselves to Las Vegas. In spite of starting to plan a couple of months before the trip, we soon got bogged down in our respective schedules, with the net result that even the week before, none of us had a concrete idea of what we were going to do, except fly out and back!!

In a frenzy during the week prior to our departure, I managed to ask around (on and offline) and get information about the basic nature attractions in the general vicinity that could be visited as a day trip. Here was our short list (some of the names might not be the official ones):

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Zion National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Death Valley
  • Hoover Dam
  • Some place with sand dunes (that I had read about somewhere but did not remember when and where)
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Arches National Park

As you can see, the list got out of hand pretty quickly. There was no way we could have gotten to some of these places with the five-six days we had in mind, and even to those we would have gotten to, we could not have done much.

So, we decided to play it by ear based on weather conditions. Fortunately, the weather was not going to be too bad – I had worried that we might run into snow and/or ice/sleet. In hindsight, once more, it appears that I had not done my homework properly – even the weather we encountered was apparently colder than normal. It was ironic to face weather in the 40s in Las Vegas while friends visiting the Atlantic coast up north got 60s!! Oh well … [more to follow]

October 30, 2015

Human interactions in the smartphone era

Filed under: Communication,Peeves — Porcupyn @ 7:48 am

Several times in the last few months, I have been burned by my electronic interactions with fellow humans. Specifically, as a Soccer (and Swimming) Dad, I communicate with other parents via email – to me, it is better than using the phone for two reasons: one, I am never in a position to claim the Extrovert of the Room award at any place or time, and two, I never know what would be a good time to call another parent (he or she might be driving, in a meeting, eating out with family, yada yada yada).

So, I whip out my laptop (most of my communication happens at home, as I don’t typically use a smartphone on the road, though I possess one … finally) and type in an email. Maybe because I am at home and typing on a laptop with all of my fingers, or maybe that is just the way I am, my emails are typically one or two paragraphs long (maybe as long as this post – up to this point).

Invariably, I have received responses that are a sentence long … or shorter! A few times I have asked a question or two in my e-mail that has not been answered. I used to wonder whether it is my email, my face, my kid or what it is that resulted in what I perceived to be failure of communication. Needless to say, more often than not, that is the last email in the chain and I do not bother to respond.

This article makes it appear that I have not been alone at the receiving end of such responses (and at least, I ought not take it to heart as much as the person in this article should).

A close friend recently forwarded me an email exchange with a startup CEO. My friend is a casual investor in startups, and works in finance.The CEO of one of his portfolio companies sent him (along with other members of a syndicate) an email asking for introductions to venture firms.

In an effort to be helpful, my friend offered to introduce the CEO to one of the top venture firms in the world.

The CEO’s response responded with a brief email containing only two words: “please do.”

After receiving the brief response, my friend asked me an honest question: “is this how everyone in tech behaves?”

Another similar article.

October 29, 2015

Online reputation and Theranos

Filed under: Uncategorized — Porcupyn @ 7:39 am

A few months (maybe even a couple of years ago), I came across this article about an attractive young women (Elizabeth Holmes) being one of the youngest billionaires. She had started a blood testing company (Theranos) and was going head to head with the big honchos and so on, the article stated.

A few weeks later, that article faded from my memory, until an old hostelmate asked some pointed questions about her and her company in an email group that I belong to. Specifically, he was asking whether others had ever gotten their blood drawn at a Theranos lab and what they had thought about the results (accuracy, timeliness, etc). No one in the group had ever been tested there, but there were mixed reactions – some had heard of Theranos, others had not; of those who had heard about the company, some had also learned that folks out there were trying to sully the company’s reputation.

Well, said the original questioner, how about some of you get your blood drawn at your megaLabCorp and – at the same time – go to a Theranos-approved location, then see if the results match. Fair enough (and that is where I exited the conversation, after checking and confirming that I couldn’t participate in the control group exercise, there being no Theranos-facility closer to me than the midwest!!).

But then I did some googling. Sure enough, the jury was apparently still out on whether or not the results from Theranos are accurate enough. It appeared to me that Ms. Holmes has hit the main bullet points for creating a very favourable online reputation for her company.

However, it does appear that for each article that praises her company, there are enough detractors (see the comments section of the linked article). So, at this point, until I learn more from my friends’ control group test (and/or have access to Theranos), it is “same old same old” for me.

This week I attended the Medical Innovation Summit and saw Elizabeth Holmes being interviewed by Dr Delos Cosgrove, CEO of one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the world – The Cleveland Clinic. The gathering was attended by forward thinking doctors and researchers in all medical fields as well as private investors, family offices and venture firms that invest in medicine. Holmes was in her comfort zone surrounded by medical professionals and we can certainly acknowledge that women in the STEM fields are among the most promising entrepreneurs.

Holmes is the founder of Theranos – a private, venture backed U.S. company that is working to disrupt the $60 billion blood testing industry. After dropping out of Stanford in 2003, Holmes founded Theranos at the age of 19. The company invented an innovative blood testing approach that revolutionizes not only how painlessly blood tests can be done, but also by how low cost and accessible the tests can be to the masses. Her company employs over 100 engineers and scientists along with other support staff.

Holmes’ incredible work and innovation has been on the cover of magazines such as Forbes, Inc., and the New York Times. Among other achievements, these publications discussed Theranos’ FDA clearance in July for its new hardware, software, at-home blood drawing equipment, and test for the herpes simplex virus.

In mid-October, an article written by the WSJ questioned the validity of some of Theranos’ tests and sparked further examination of the company. It is striking how fast a person such as Holmes can be the darling of the media one day and the focal point of a maelstrom the next.

It is impossible to know at this time if any of the claims made about the Theranos tests have merit. It is relevant to note that the FDA has already approved the first test. Only medical professionals who have the necessary expertise can review the medical efficacy.

October 9, 2015

How many times does the Earth rotate about its axis in a year?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Porcupyn @ 7:41 am

To be more precise, how many times does the Earth rotate about its axis in 365.25 days? Guess what! Well, if you say “The answer is 365.25, of course” then you would be wrong. The earth actually rotates about its axis once more than the number of days it takes to complete one complete revolution around the sun. To generalize this further, each planet has one less “day” than the answer you would get when you divide its revolution time by its rotation time.

It is ironic that I did not independently understand this fact. I had to read this question and (incorrect) answer combination, and then do some analysis. As an aside, I hope that “nik” has gone on to do higher things in life and hopefully Nicolle understands that she was wrong.

Here is my simple experiment:

Assume that a planet rotates about its axis every 24 hours and takes 48 hours to revolve around its star. Draw the star in the centre and draw four positions of the planet at 90-degree intervals around the star. Pick a spot on the planet and draw the positions of the spot in those four locations of the planet. You will see that though the spot will see only one each of the following,

– star-rise
– noon
– star-set
– midnight

Thus the planet revolves around the star in one day instead of the two days that you would intuitively assume. In fact, here is a table:

Rotation Revolution “Days/Year”
Does not rotate Any One
X hours X hours None (zero)*
X hours 2X hours One
X hours 3X hours Two
X hours 4X hours Three
and so on… and so on… and so on…

When I google the question, most of the answers that come up are INCORRECT!! I did find one (and I am sure there are others, but they are all much deeper down in the search reults) that is correct.

Wait a minute though! That is not the final answer (and depending on how you did your modelling of your star-planet combo, you might have realized it as well). The answer actually depends on the direction of the revolution and the direction of the rotation. If the planet rotates clockwise and revolves around the star clockwise as well, the above scenario holds true, as it does for the Earth and most of the planets; however, some planets rotate in the opposite direction of their revolution, i.e., the rotate counter-clockwise and revolve clockwise, or vice versa. For such planets, whose rotation is termed retrograde, the Days/Year in the above table would be One, Two, Three, Four, Five and so on.

PS: I wonder … which is the closest planet to the Sun where the stars can be seen during the daytime?

October 1, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — Porcupyn @ 7:43 am

Cozi is a calendar App that lets family members stay in sync in spite of busy schedules. I have been using it for about a week now and have liked it so far. I have entered all of Katya’s and Baab’s weekend activities and assigned Mrs. Porcupyn or myself to act as chaperone based on compatibility.

However, I have now come across a bug. What bugs me more than the bug is that I don’t have the ability to share the bug with the Cozi folks as there is no Contact Us button or form on their website. So, here goes🙂

When I am offline, I can add a new item to the calendar; however, the edit functionality fails to work (maybe it is the special situation where you try to edit a recurring appointment). It is OK for the user if the edit functionality fails to work; however, the app does not let you cancel out of the edit.

In other words, right now, I don’t have the option of “gracefully” exiting out of the (failed) edit. I have the option of either deleting the entire series of appointments or only the future appointments in the series (neither of which I have selected) or Cancel. Cancel drops me right back into the Edit mode. There is no way for me to get back to viewing the calendar unless I select one of the above delete options, which I do not want to try.

So, I am in a Cozi “No Man’s Land” right now.

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