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Ramani visited me during the weekend. He arrived from London this afternoon. It truly brought memories of undergrad days. We had quite a lot of fun cracking PJs and chilled out with memories of funfilled undergrad days. How time flies? We had a game of cricket as well to spice things up. I leave you with a picture shot at St.Sulpice near the EPFL UNIL sports center.


The memorial service for Ralf Koetter held at UCSD is video archived. Quite many of the stalwarts in Information theory field found it difficult to control their emotions when they spoke about him. Such was the level of closeness many people had with him.  I have never got to directly interact with Ralf , but was aware about his stellar contributions to many areas in and related to coding. The most notable thing other than his well known research contribution is his amazing teaching skills. The two guest lectures given by him during David Forney’s MIT class in 2005 were simply stunning. He then had talked about Reed Solomon codes and that is by far the best lucid presentation of such a difficult topic, that I have ever seen. His sudden and untimely  demise leaves an irreplaceable void on this planet. He was that good. So woefully cut short by cancer.

Alex Vardy knitted down a fitting tribute to his friend and colleague.

Vous l’avez fait Federer! Federer is the French open 2009 champion. Something in me was telling, even before the start of this grandslam tournament, that this is the year for Fedex to win at Roland Garos. Ever since Nadal lost to Soderling earlier, his case was strengthened even further. He has done it finally.  What an year to win this. He is expecting his son to be born in few months and now, he can be at peace with the agony of not winning the French open, in spite of reaching the finals so many times. What a player he has been over the years. Todays match was much like the Federer-Murray US open final last year. Federer was superb. Soderling didn’t do too wrong, but that is the elegance and class of the great man Federer.

He has already moved to the pantheon of greats. Now it is a matter of adding more flavour to his already colourful charisma. All grand-slam championship as well now comes with this win. Incredible. Thank you Fedex for keeping us enthralled by your genius. Seeing it from Switzerland is even more exciting.

Footnote:  Whenever I cross the Ecublens area near Crochy, the tennis courts, I remember  Federer. I was told that he used to train there in early days of his wonderful tennis life. I am yet to figure out where exactly he did that school tennis training. Just out of curiosity! It may be just a few maters of walk from where I stay!

Shocked to hear about Rajiv Motwani’s sudden demise. I couldn’t believe it. So tragic and sudden end to one of the smartest computer science guy we ever had. So sad.  Apparently, he met with an accident in  swimming pool at home.  The world lost such a terrific talent and entrepreneur. May his soul rest in piece.

Three days on and no positive signs of any survival after that sudden disappearance of French commercial plane. These are tragic moments and my heart goes to the relatives and friends of the missing. The Air-France flight AF 447 was heading from Rio de Genero to Paris when it was lost early on Monday. There are reports emerging that some debris found on the Atlantic ocean may have been that of the missing airline. The present inference leads to a possible crash of the airbus into the middle of Atlantic.

I began to wonder the difficulty of carrying out search in the middle of a rather ominous ocean stretch, with difficult weather conditions, compounded with higher depths in the range of several thousand kilometers. If we were to do that in the night, you can imagine that extra difficulty with artificial light too. This clearly is an arduous task.

I was checking the specifications and features of the Airbus 330-200. They are ultra modern and almost disaster free.  They are supposedly very robust engines equipped with superior communication, control and electrical safety devices. Since went into operation in 1993, there was no fatal accidents, until this unfortunate thing happened on Monday. The only deaths reported on this bus was during a test flight in 1994, killing the pilots and two engineers on board. That accident was widely attributed to pilot errors and faulty autopilot systems. The latest disaster by far is the most fatal in terms of casualties and the extend of failure. As often is the case with air accidents, the survival chances are grim.

The A330-200 is a wide bodied two engine carrier. It is one of the dominant carriers for many of the medium/economical airliners operating. They include Air France, KLM and Etihad.

The loss of 228 passengers on board is beyond one could have imagined, especially with the advent of superior technology in modern airbuses. At the same time, this also give us a perspective on how well they function, every time a successful flight is seen through. The engines, the communication control devices, the pilots, the crews, all have to work rather seamlessly to make a trip safe as is the case, most of the time. I have seen people making huge furies over few minutes of delay at airports, reportedly caused by engine maintenance etc. Sometimes, I wonder whether such sudden outbursts by some passengers are reasonable at all. I get annoyed when some weird nuts behave like this. It is understandable that they value time as precious as ever, but we must surely give credit and due respect to the airline staff for making every journey as safe as possible. Sometimes, even the best effort may not lead to guaranteed goals, but then such is life.

Disasters like this latest one, might have occurred due to catastrophic failure of several parts of the system. Unfortunately everything seemed to have gone wrong with this airbus, including weather, location and extend of engine failures. Experts are worried about the chances of recovering the black box too. Just imagine the difficulty of the Brazilian and French air force, navy and military to get into the troubled waters of the vast Atlantic to search for the missing links. Quite a task that is going to be.

The Air France accident feel a touch more dearly to me. I have travelled quite a lot of times with Air France, almost always thanks to the economical advantage over other European carriers (They charge the least airport tax within continental Europe! and they have direct flights to Bangalore, connecting a Geneva-Paris as well).  This unfortunately is the biggest disaster for this Airline. It must be terrible time ahead for them too, to try and find the causes of such a catastrophic failure. The major surprise I noted is the absence of ay radio communication from the cockpit crew to ground. Some says it indicates the almost instant collapse of the system thereby leaving no time for the crew to react. I was wondering whether any of the following could have been done, at least as a futuristic goal!

1) The Satellites take frequent pictures of these airline routes. The rate of sensing, storage and power requirements, perhaps are the obvious limitations here. May be a potential compressed sensing application here? I am curious to know whether Satellites do scan the whole earth and if so, how frequent? I was told that, they do in parts, skipping the ocean for instance.

2) Let Satellites sense communication from all the airlines and report a failure of trajectory instantly. Considering the present day amount of traffic in the air, this may be quite a task. Besides, some form of this may already be in place.

3) Air France flights interestingly have these flight camera operating live. I have seen them beaming the live video of the ground while it is landing and taking off. I am wondering whether they could relay it down to its ground terminal so that they get to know when things go wrong.

None of these perhaps avoid a disaster. They can at the most help to trace the airline wreckage after a disaster. Considering the state we are in at the moment, aftermath of such a tragedy, this might be of some use. Never sure!


June 2009
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