Sunday, 22 November 2009

Inspiring people and Inspiring talks

Its been nearly a month since the verbalisation of the Welsh Diwali, and in the meantime I have been fortunate to meet a few more inspiring people at few inspiring talks I attended -

(27th Oct. venue: Turner sims concert hall)
a) Ben Fogle :  Ben is a truly inspirational character - in every sense of the word. Fortunately I had a reminder pop-up in outlook just 10 minutes before his talk - advertised on the university events website. Among other (crazy) things he has done in life, which you can check from his website, he has participated and completed the MDS, supposedly the toughest footrace on the planet. He has raced across antarctica to the beautiful south pole only to find that bang on the south pole is a block-shaped american research station - complete with McD's and basketball courts.  He has crossed the atlantic in a row boat. And if that was not enough to raise money (for charity), he has penned down memoirs of the last two adevntures in "The Race to the Pole" and "The Crossing". To quote Ben - "Life is all about taking risks"

(28th Oct. venue: Physics lecture theatre A)
b) Jocelyn Bell: Jocelyn was chairing the inaugural lecture by Prof. Malcolm Coe as part of astronomy group seminar programme .  It was inspiring, motivating, humbling to have spent 15 minutes with jocelyn after the lecture -  discussing among other things - the subject of the talk that day - whether the large magellanic cloud (LMC, for short, is a satellite galaxy of the milky way) will collide with the milky way in a few million years. One aspect of LMC and SMC fascinates me - that they are visible only in the southern hemisphere sky. So unlike the andromeda galaxy, we people in the north hemisphere do not see these two tiny blobs, which are companion dwarf-galaxies, in our night sky. Jocelyn, being one of the luminaries of radio astronomy, it was natural to touch upon history of radio astronomy - and whats' more - we got an invitation to visit the famous lovell telescope at jodrell bank :)

(3rd Nov. venue: Turner sims concert hall)
c) Prof. David Clary: David was here to deliver the annual IBM Hursley lecture. The fascinating aspect of this talk was its non-scientific theme. David recounted personal stories related to the life of Erwin Schroedinger. The umbilical connection between the two of them is an office room in Magdalen college in oxford, which they have occupied at separate time instants. Off course, you cannot judge the occupant of this room (David or Erwins' soul), until you open the room, akin to schroedingers famous cat paradox. David took the pains to track down Erwins' daughter in austria and invited her to oxford, her first visit to oxford since her father left oxford in 1933. David proudly narrates the history - in Oct. 1933, even as Erwin was making way to his office for his first day in oxford, he got a call from some journalist, telling him he won the Nobel prize in physics. Among the memoirs David has diligently unearthed is a hand-written note from 'The Fuehrer' itself to schroedinger when he left berlin for oxford - perhaps the only appreciating note this man ever wrote :)

(17th Nov. venue: soul cellar)
d) Prof. Nils Anderson : Nils was speaking at the science cafe. The beautiful thing about these science cafe talks is that they are delivered in a pub ! The subject of this particular talk was gravitational waves. Between sipping cider, beer and the odd lemonade (thats me :), people discussed Einsteins general theory of relativity with Nils. Nils is interested in rotating neutron stars in particular and gravitational waves in general. To quote Nils - "General theory is a theory with no free parameters - unlike string theory where you need to play around with some knobs on your super-machine. Also it is simple to understand - as simple as the following quote by John Wheeler - 'Matter tells space how to curve, space tells matter how to move'  "

(18th Nov. venue: Murray lecture theatre)
e) Capt. Eric Moody : Eric was talking at a Royal Aeronautical society talk on the campus. Eric is a funny person - for one, he saved the lives of all 247 passengers on the ill-fated (and divinely lucky in retrospect) BA009 flight from kuala lumpur to perth on the night of 24th June 1982 - for another, has got an unbeatable sense of humour :). For those who might not have time to follow the links - this plane, which capt. moody was piloting, ran into a volcanic ash cloud resulting from a volcanic explosion on one of the indonesian islands and lost all its 4 engines for almost 15-18 full minutes - the plane flew as a glider from 37,000 ft to 12,000 ft, when the engines miraculously re-booted :) and inspite of the communication and language barriers between the ATC and the flight crew, the plane made an emergency landing in jakarta airport - everyone safe and sound.

(19th Nov. venue: Kuti's Royal Thai Pier)
f) Prof. Wendy Hall: Wendy is present at the UK India business council's next generation network meeting to share her insight into the evolving world of the web. Wendy is a close friend of Tim (berners-lee), who wrote the first web-page on the internet. It is amusing to know that at one time - about a month since he developed the internet protocol - Tim used to maintain a diary of web-sites in his pocket - all of the 17 websites on the net - which obviously he couldn't memorise :) - so he had to write them down, since there was no google-god :). She is also the president of ACM and said she is looking forward very much to her visit to bangalore in Jan for the ACM india launch event.

(19th Nov. venue: Kuti's Royal Thai Pier)
g) Laurence barber: Laurence is the director of sport at university of southampton. We met at the UK india business event where wendy gave her talk. We were both present for entirely different reasons - laurence, to look for sporting partnerships with India - me, for the free canapes and drinks. Among other things, we shared thoughts on why/how a nation of more than a billion people can do nothing better than a single gold medal at the olympics. Taking the opportunity of sharing a confined space with Laurence and the chairman of hampshire cricket, in the current spirit of things, I asked for discounted student tickets to matches at Rose bowl. I did get a verbal assurance :)

In between thanking god for these chance interactions, I compiled the poems that these inspiring people seem to carry in their hearts and wallets in a nutshell ...