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Cow Protection, Ecology and Sustainability talk at Gaura Yoga

26 November 2008 | 2 Comments | Tags: , ,

Visnumaya recently gave a talk at Gaura Yoga on cow protection, ecology and sustainability. She has posted the talk and the presentation slides on her website. Much recommended. Check it out:

"Holy Cow Protection" eco-talk at Gaura Yoga

Vyasa Puja Festival 2008 Pictures

6 November 2008 | 8 Comments | Tags: , , ,

On the weekend of the 25th of October, 2008 the majority of practitioners of Krishna consciousness in New Zealand (and a few from Australia) went to a retreat center in Inglewood, NZ called Vertical Horizon. There we celebrated the Vyasa-Puja (birthday of the spiritual master) of Devamrita Swami.

It was a grand festivals. Nearly 100 devotees were present. It was expertly organized by Visnumaya and Gopal Guru. So many great activities, presentations and speeches. The spiritual food (prasadam) was over-the-top great. I also really enjoyed seeing and speaking with many, many old friends.

I took over 800 photos. You can view a selection of the best shots here:

album_001.jpg

(the images 0.8-megapixel images in the gallery are fine for viewing on screen, but not nearly detailed enough for large prints. If anyone wants to print out any of the images, please email me and I can supply the original full 14.6 megapixel images from the Pentax K20d)

What's wrong with what we eat

15 May 2008 | 10 Comments | Tags: ,

Cow equals Nuclear Bomb
(picture credit: cow, nuke)

The cow killing that is going on today is like a nuclear bomb. It is the new holocaust, threatening to destroy us all.

In the United States alone every year 10 billion animals are killed for food. If you lined them all up that they would reach to the moon and back five times! With that many living entities being killed there is simply no way that they can be treated ethically. Doing so also results in second highest contribution to global warming in the world (after energy production, but ahead of transportation and residences).

In this excellent presentation at the TED conference Mark Bittman reenforces much of what I talked about in the King Corn post. It is a really compelling presentation on the importance of local food (Locavore = person who only eats local food; is the new word of year), importance of eating organic food (although it isn't a cure-all) and the importance of eating less meat, less junk and more plants (eating plants is what makes us healthy).

He also talks a bit about the history of food. About how we got into the sorry state of far too much meat-eating we are in today.

Here is the video of the talk (much recommended!)

King Corn

10 May 2008 | 97 Comments | Tags: ,

I saw a documentary called King Corn today. It is about two guys from Boston who decide to grow an acre of corn in Iowa to learn more about this strange grain that is seemingly in everything we eat.

Ear of corn inspection

(picture credit)

Tilling and planting one acre of corn (31000 seeds) with a modern tractor takes only about 18 minutes. So, a single farmer can farm many thousands of acres of corn. What used to be a major undertaking, requiring lots of manpower, now can be done with relative ease by just a few hard-working farmers (using lots of machines, chemicals and GMOs).

Once the corn starts growing it is sprayed with liberty weed-killer. This herbicide is non-selective, meaning it kills any and all plants. The corn, however, is genetically modified Liberty-Link corn that can resist the herbicide.

Ammonia fertilizer is used to increase yields. It quadruples the farm's yield and eliminates the need to rotate crops, like the Romans used to do. So, a monoculture of corn can be grown everywhere, year-after-year. However, as farmers are only now discovering, ammonia gradually destroys soil quality.

The harvested corn is used mainly for either animal feed or high-fructose corn syrup production.

Instead of letting cattle eat grass off fields, the fields are used to grow corn. This corn is then fed to the cows in a feed lot. The benefit is that since cows are not allowed to move, they fatten up more quickly. Corn is also a much richer diet than grass, so the cows gain weight even more quickly and less overall space is required. A cow is usually slaughters within 60 - 120 days of entering the feed lot.

Why 120 days? Because after 120 days on a corn diet a cow starts getting really sick. Its digestion system can't handle eating corn for so long. It develops a condition called acidosis, which will quickly kill the animal (humans can also develop acidosis, but usually only as a side effect of certain pharmaceutical drugs). Antibiotics are mixed in with the corn feed to keep the cattle alive for a bit longer, so they gain enough weight for slaughter.

Modern corn cannot be eaten by humans. It is optimized to produce maximum starch. You don't get something for nothing. So, the price of more starch is lower protein in the corn. The result: corn that tastes like chalk, has almost no nutritional value and is perfect for high-fructose corn syrup production.

One in eight people in New York have diabetes (although most don't know it) largely because of eating (and especially drinking) too much high-fructose corn syrup. Drinking one soda per day doubles one's chance of developing diabetes as opposed to someone who only occasionally drinks a soda. And the main ingredient in sugar water is ... high-fructose corn syrup.

Also, a typical McDonald's meal is basically all corn: The burger is made from corn feed cows, half the calories in french-fries come from the corn oil it is fried in, and the drink is, of course, mostly high-fructose corn syrup. We are what we eat, and what we are eating is primarily corn.

Government subsidies rewards the overproduction of cheap corn. Otherwise, it wouldn't be economically viable to grow so much corn. However, largely as a result of those subsidies, in the USA only 16% of people's income is spent on food. That's half the amount that people spent on food a generation ago. People like it when their food is cheap. More money to spend on other, more important things in life, right? The unfortunate side-effect is that low quality food makes people sick. Life expectation is actually going down in the USA. People are dying younger and it's because of what they eat.

The Bhagavad-Gita affirms all this. In it Krishna declares that wretched persons ingest only suffering when they cook for their selfish motives (BG3.13). (alternative translation credit: Garuda das)

The Counseling System: Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees

15 January 2008 | 6 Comments | Tags: , ,

I have been reading an excellent booklet entitled "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" by H.H. Niranjana Swami. It outlines his experience and advice regarding the counseling system successfully used in Chowpatti Temple, as well as in many parts of Russia. The following is a summary of some of the book's presentation. I recommend reading the complete book since it contains much more detail and inspiration.

Everyone needs to take shelter of something. Everyone needs friends in Krishna consciousness. Everyone needs spiritual strength. Spiritual strength comes from Balarama. Balarama's representative is the guru.

A good Krishna conscious leader gives encouragement and care to his dependents. He or she is interested only in other people's Krishna consciousness; not in exploiting their skills, their money, etc. Therefore, the essential ingredient for a successful counseling system is: caring (thinking of the welfare of others).

Counselors are not official authorities. They are simply friends. They give advice only when asked and don't force their counselees to do anything these strongly resist doing. Some pushing may be there, but only out of concern and love. Aspiring devotees should deal with their counselors not because they have to, but because they want to. Devotees should trust their counselors. This is, after all, a volunteer movement. There should be no arm twisting or threatening. Devotees should not feel like they are constantly under the Sword of Damocles.

Inspiration should be the first principle, the organized system can come later. Prabhupada wrote in a letter: "This is the duty of the leaders to bring up this voluntary spirit and to fan it so that Krishna consciousness becomes an ever-fresh experience." Devotees can best inspire others if they themselves are highly inspired.

It is not so much a counseling system; it is rather more a means of establishing friendships / loving relationships. It has to come naturally and cannot be forced by the temple authorities. If someone is forced to accept someone as a counselor then they will not necessarily trust the counselor's advice; they suspect that the counselor has some hidden agenda. True friendship is secret of the success of the counseling system in a place like Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha Mandir in Chowpatta, Mumbai. Devotees there love each other and that makes all the difference. They chant together, associate together and thereby learn to see each other's good quality. They are one family.

Fault finding can manifest if devotees associate only for the purpose of service. Therefore, in addition to service, there needs to be association in kirtan, study and support for a nice community to develop. If this is not there then association with materialists starts looking more and more attractive to the aspiring devotee.

Counselees should use meeting with their counselors to benefit personally. The meeting should not be used to complain about other devotees. Bhaktivinoda Thakur said that if someone speaks about others with an attitude of pride or envy, they cannot fix their mind upon Krishna. So, meetings should only be used to discuss personal problems, both material and spiritual, as well as general Krishna conscious philosophy.

It is not that a devotee should only associate with those devotees whom he likes and avoid those whom he does not get along with. That is a kanista (neophyte) mentality. Instead, all devotees should chant very attentively, learn to see each other's good qualities and bring out the best in everyone. There must be an emphasis on internal transformation as well as external distribution. Both must go on equally.

The devotees who take up the position of counselors should expect nothing in return for their service. They should be materially stable with an honest source of income. Counselors should also be stable in their particular ashram (ideally as a householder), so they don't misuse their position of authority. They should be inspiring preachers who lead by their own example.

The counselors should ideally not be involved in temple management (or, if they are, be able to clearly distinguish between the needs of the temple and the needs of their counselees). They should be free thinkers (although strictly principled), who may, in certain circumstances, disagree with the management's ideas and plans. Management should not only appoint counselors who are sympathetic to them. Otherwise, if the counselors are simply an extension of the management, their counselees will doubt their commitment to their dependents' best interest. If a counselee cannot trust his or her counselor then the counseling will be ineffective.

Important qualification for counselors are:

  • Counselors should have a nice understanding of the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness.
  • They should have been active within ISKCON for a reasonable length of time.
  • They should be able to give balanced advice according to time, place and circumstance.
  • They should not be prone to taking extreme and controversial positions on issues..
  • They should be willing to extend themselves to help others and have a spirit of sacrifice.
  • They should be compassionate and have a genuine concern for the welfare of devotees.
  • They should be good listeners. They should be able to listen to the people they are trying to serve.
  • They should be mature and sober.
  • They should demonstrate a good standard of sadhana, etiquette, behavior, and commitment to serving the mission of Srila Prabhupada.
  • They should be stably situated within their own ashram.

More information on the counseling system from H.H. Radhanath Maharaja is available here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1378

Another review of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1421

An electronic version of the complete text of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/wp-content/uploads/tckd2_web.pdf

Printed copies of "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" are available for a very reasonable price by contacting Lila Smarana devi dasi at: lila.smarana.nrs@cis.pamho.net

Faith in Science

1 January 2008 | 0 Comments | Tags: , ,

I was listening to an interview with radio talk show host Michael Krasny. Among other things, he talks about his interview with James Watson and Edward Wilson, which he writes about in his new book (Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life). He recalls both saying that they have little concern over the risk of genetic tinkering (whether it be recombinant DNA or genetically modified food). Krasny puts this down to both men's "faith in science".

I found this interesting. Both of these researchers have a great deal of faith in their scientific work. They have worked so long in their area that they have developed not blind faith, but realized knowledge. Based on their life-long study of genetics they have firm unshakable faith that genetic engineering is both safe and useful. As a result, when they speak, they do so with such confidence that people are impressed: "oh, these people know what they are talking about. I feel I can surrender to such powerful gurus..."

Now, we can argue about whether or not genetics will save or destroy the world. However, it strikes me as ironic that these great men of science are gloried for the exact same thing great religious leaders are gloried for, namely, their firm conviction.

Of course, scientists would have us believe that all religionists are sentimental quacks, who blindly believe in some flying spaghetti monster, without any real evidence to back it up. However, this attitude is just plain wrong. It comes from a lack of knowledge.

Any bona-fide spiritual science, such as Krishna consciousness, is the "perfection of religion", because it "gives direct perception of the self by realization" (BG 9.2). Meaning that it provides means of experimentally verifying the statements made in the scripture. All that it takes is a willingness to go to school and learn the science. Just like the aspiring geneticist must study biology for a number of years, the aspiring spiritualist must study Bhagavad-Gita for a number of years. The study is both theoretically (reading, hearing lectures, etc.) and practical (meditation, karma-yoga, etc.). In the end, the result of years of applied spiritual science is: faith in Krishna.

Michael Uschold on Semantic Technology

18 December 2007 | 242 Comments | Tags: , ,

I attended a presentation by Michael Uschold of Boeing corporation Phantom Works. He talked about ontologies and semantic applications and the pressing need for them in today's software industry. I thought it was a great presentation. The following is a summary of his ideas from what I gathered while listening:
Value
Dr. Uschold explained that when one is talking to someone about semantics one needs to sell its value. One should provide answers to the following questions: how will semantics help? Why is it better? What is the cost / benefits? Where will it fit in the architecture?

For example: there was a task at Boeing that required someone to write a report every three months. Writing the report involved the guy formulating a bunch of database queries, loading the results into Excel, messing around with the data a bit to shape it into the required form, and then writing the report. Altogether this was a 20-hour task. Doing the same task with ontology would be much quicker and produce a more accurate and more complete result. This is because ontologies uses the same schema (or language) for everything in the workflow. There is no need to convert between different data representations.

So, the value of ontologies for IT systems is that they allow systems to be more tightly coupled. In a traditional system the semantics are implicit. That is, they are hard wired into the system. You can't see them, you can't change them and you can't maintain them. So, more often than not, the system's requirements are out of sync with the applications'. For example: suppose someone creates a model (in UML) and write the code according to that model (in Java), then the requirements changes and the code is updated to match the new requirements, but no one ever updates the model. Over time the model and the code grow further and further apart until the model is all but useless. With an ontology the model is directly used to drive the system. Any change to the requirements requires a change to the ontology model and that, in turn, results in a change to the system. The result: everything is up-to-date all the time. This is the holy grail of semantic systems: a model driven architecture (remember that buzz word!).

Benefits
The benefit of semantics is that they allow common access to information. Ontologies have unambiguous formal semantics. So, for example: in a semantic data warehouse, the ontology can provide a common schema for querying multiple databases; when doing system integration, the ontology allows for enterprise wide interoperability; and when capturing organizational knowledge, the ontology allows this knowledge to be stored, queried and accessed throughout the organization.

Speaking of querying: semantics enable better search. Semantic search goes a step beyond basic keyword-based search. It allows for detailed and very specific question answering and document retrieval.

Semantics offer many benefits in knowledge management. They allow organization to retain knowledge (e.g. when people retire), share knowledge and enable communities of practice (by e.g. informing people throughout the organization about who knows what). Semantics enable secure knowledge authoring and storage, since a rich ontology- or rule-based specification can accurately and reliably control everything that anyone is allowed to see and/or change. Semantic knowledge management would be especially useful for compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxly business process act (which all large organization are severely struggling to comply with, because it is so ridiculously complicated).

Semantic technology allows for lean and agile application development. With a database you are stuck with a given schema that was designed according to a specific problem scenario. Want to ask a different question? Then you would better get ready to spend at least two days rewriting all your SQL, or watch your performance go down the drain like nobody's business. The ontology allows for improved reliability, consistency and reusability. People still don't know how to reuse code. An ontology, however, is built for re-use.

So, in short, the benefits of semantic technology are: flexibility, flexibility, flexibility!

Limitations
Ontologies do have some limitations, however. They can't do everything.

For one, scaling is a big issue. Reasoners currently have difficulty providing efficient a-box reasoning (answering questions about a large number of individuals/instances), as well as dealing with very large ontologies. Then there also is not much in the way of commercial application support for ontologies. The triple stores on the market are, for the most part, really, really dumb. They just store triples. If you want any reasoning support at all, you need to do it yourself.

Then there is workflow control. There needs to be more support for collaborative ontology development and change management. Large groups need to be able to concurrently build ontologies.

Another major issue that is limiting the adoption of semantic technology is that it is pretty much impossible for a normal person to understand. Take OWL restrictions, for example (please!). To describe a "big red ball", one needs to write: "class: ball, that has an anonymous superclass of which some values from are restricted over the property "hasSize" with the filler of the class of "Big" and some values from are restricted over the property of "hasColor" with the filler of the class of "Red". How bizarre is that?! The non-logician/non-geek just wanted to describe a ball, not get into the details of hopelessly complicated formal logic (and that was an easy example!). The complicated stuff really needs to happen behind the scenes.

Finally: we still need code. Ontology models can't yet drive the whole system. They are just a small part of a very big picture.

Questions that need answering
There are a few common questions that people in industry need to have answered before they will adopt semantic technologies. These include: how do I use my ontology in my architecture? How do I integrate this into my Eclipse framework? How does it link into my middleware? Which API(s) should i use? Will I have to roll-my-own all the time, or can I use some kind of IDE for ontologies?

So, what we really need is a book that covers: semantic middleware and semantic programming (i.e. telling the reading: "this is Jena and this is what it does", "this is Jess and this is what is does", etc.). That, coupled with an ontology programming interface that abstracts some of the APIs and programming tasks needed for ontology development, would go a long way towards enabling the adoption of semantic technologies in real-world applications.

High school reunion

26 March 2007 | 58 Comments | Tags:

klassentreffenI went to a Klassentreffen (high school reunion) of my former high school in Germany (the Taunusschule K??nigstein) over the Christmas vacation. It was interesting and nice to see all my school mates again.
Funny that at least one third of them had been to New Zealand in the last 10 years. NZ must be a very popular destination for Germans. Tons of them take an interest in Krishna consciousness while they are there, that's for sure (non from my high school, though).

A few of the people were still students, but most have graduated now. Lots of people working for the various many banks in Frankfurt.

Only one other PhD I heard of (someone doing a PhD in chemistry). One medical doctor though.

A gallery of pictures is on my website.

People walking through subway turnstile

24 February 2007 | 15 Comments | Tags:

TurnstilePhotographer Bill Sullivan's website has a gallery of a bunch of people walking through subway turnstiles. The pictures present an interesting view into life. Not one of the 48 people is smiling. Such an unhappy world we live in (though Krishna consciousness is always happy).

View the gallery here.

David's new blog (go read)

31 January 2007 | 3 Comments | Tags:

A friend of mine, David, who has had a blog on Microsoft's "Live" for a while, has recently switched to using WordPress. Check out his beautiful new blog at:

http://david.deltaflow.com
(please update your bookmarks)

Top Krishna conscious blogs

14 January 2007 | 11 Comments | Tags: , ,

Google PageRank measures how important a website by how many other websites link to it. The more people link to a website, the more important it is. If no one is linking to a given website it will have a PageRank of 0, if practically everyone on the entire World Wide Web is linking a website it will have a PageRank of 10.

The more important a website, the more likely it is to appear higher up in the list of search results in Google. The higher a site is in the list of search results, the more people find and visit it. So, PageRank gives a good idea of how much impact a website is having.

(You can check the PageRank of any website using this tool.)

I've compiled a list of the various Krishna conscious blogs over the Internet with a Google PageRank score of 5. Five is the highest PageRank of any KC blog I've found. A few non-blog websites like Krishna.com and Iskcon.com have a PageRank of 6, but that's about it.

So then - behold - here the list of those Krishna conscious blogs with the most world-wide impact (according to Google):

(if you have a PageRank of 5, but are not on the list, please comment or email me and I'll add you).

KC Blogger in Cardiff

14 August 2006 | 45 Comments | Tags: , ,

And while I'm at it: check out this other blog (been going for a while). It is written by Rishi Prabhu. He is a University student in Cardiff, Wales. Also much recommended reading.

New blog: Lilamayi Subhadra in South Africa

14 August 2006 | 5 Comments | Tags: , ,

Hare Krishna! Check out this new blog. It is written by Lilamayi Subhadra devi dasi. She is a disciple of Jayapataka Swami and expert pilates teacher. Her blog is about her efforts to spread Krishna consciousness in South Africa. Much recommended reading.

Interview with Pope Benedict XVI

13 August 2006 | 4 Comments | Tags: ,

Pope Benedict XVIPapst Benedikt XVI

I came across this rare interview with Pope Benedict the 16th. He was speaking to the German news media in preparation for his upcoming Germany tour. Here is a summary of some of what he said (I translated parts of the interview into English). I thought he made a lot of sense:

God is less prominent in the world. Water comes out of the tap, not from the spring. We no longer see God so much in every day situations.

Papst Benedikt XVI is visiting his old home in southern Germany. He wants to once again see the region that branded him has he grew up.

Themes on his tour: we need to rediscover God. That can unite the people, families, cultures and world. We can't go forward without direction from above.

Young people want to do something "good". I want to encourage that. However, young people are afraid of committing themselves to anything. Be it marriage or religion. But exactly that kind of surrender gives us strength. Young people need to have the courage for long term surrender.

Without God we cannot have ethical values, nor can we be happy as his creations (not just some random throw-away product of evolution).

Christianity is not just a collection of rules and regulations. I like to encourage a positive message. First we need to understand what we want then the rules and regulations start to make sense. For example: (regarding homosexuality) we need to see man and woman are made for each other. Abortion is forbidden in the commandment "though shalt not kill". Life starts at conception and ends at death. We can understand that automatically when we understand the positive things we desire from religion.

The problem in 3rd world countries like Africa is that technological progress is moving much faster than education in the "heart" matters. Without proper spiritual education we just get AIDS and war. We need a second dimensional in education beyond pure technology.

We need to develop more dynamic preaching programs. Not just focus on maintaining the ever shrinking status quo. African and Asian people are afraid of a cold analytical/rational religion. Catholicism is perceived as such.

There are lots of useful places in the church for women. Not everyone needs to be a priest. Being a priest is not the only great thing to do for the the church. We can find so many nice and valuable services for women.

Germans have become more open to the world, happier and more tolerant. The German mentality has grown into the world culture. We have become spontaneous, happy and welcoming and no longer have the stereotypical cold, punctual and efficient personality we had in the past.

Humour is very important to me. I'm not one for making many jokes, but life shouldn't be taken too seriously. There is an old saying:

angels can fly because they don't take themselves too heavy and seriously.

Tony Robbins: emotion matters most

31 July 2006 | 2 Comments | Tags:

Check out this talk by world-famous life-coach Antony Robbins at this year's TED-2006 conference. Man, this guy is a good speaker (although very much in the mode of passion). It's not so much what he's saying, but the power with which he delivers it.

I think the most important point he makes is: emotion!

If you are creative, fun, energetic, focused and emotional enough you can do anything. People will listen to and follow such a person. So, do something worthwhile, become emotionally involved, invest your heart and win big. But how to find something worthwhile to do ...

My mother visits Radhadesh

4 July 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

My mother visited Radhadesh in Belgium over the last weekend. She attended Kurma's cooking course there.

Pict2756

I spoke with her today. She said she really enjoyed it. The course was great and Kurma was expert. She prepared a some nice preparations for the daily feasts they all cooked together. All the devotees were really nice, too. She particularly enjoyed a morning class by Krishna Ksetra Prabhu. She also bought 9 books from the venerable Laksmipriya dd of the BLS distribution center.

Now greatly inspired in her Krishna consciousness she wants to go back to visit the castle again soon.

Kurma's blog entries about the Radhadesh cooking course can be found here and here. He also talks about the history of the place.

WWW2006 day 5: Active Navigation

27 June 2006 | 55 Comments | Tags: , , ,

Over lunch I bumped into John Darlington, the former CEO of Active Navigation, a small company (spin-off from Southampton University) that I worked for a while ago. John is now working for Southampton University as a Business Manager and was involved in organizing the WWW conference.

Active Navigation was a very nice place to work. It had the atmosphere of a small start-up without the killer, passionate, burn-out, no-holds-barred pace.

The company creates a server technology that automatically injects hyperlinks into web pages pointing to relevant, related pages on the same website. Website navigation can be improved by using these injected links. If someone, for example, creates a web page containing the word "ontology" and someone else has written a web page that also contains the "ontology", then the server transforms those words into links to each other's web pages. Someone browsing the website could find the two related pages by clicking on the automatically created link.

John called me over: "Julian! Wow, great to see you!"

Turning to Nigel Shadbolt next to him: "Julian here worked for me for a while, then disappeared into the either, as you do, and now: I'm chairing a session (the one on education), look down and who do I see? Julian, asking a question!"

He suggested I might look into digital media production in New Zealand as a possible career path. Ever since Lord of the Rings that has apparently taken off in a big way down-under.

WWW2006 day 3: drinks reception

11 June 2006 | 53 Comments | Tags: , , ,

In the evening there was a food and drinks reception at the Edinburgh Castle.

The castle was impressive. Very large and imposing. I could literally feel the history of the place. Many, many wars were fought on its mighty walls. The entire city of Edinburgh has a unique ancient feeling to it. Of course, not everything was awe-inspiring. The dog cemetery, for instance, was laughable (sad, sad, sad).

The reception (price of admission = ?£50) involved pretty waitresses walking around with trays of expensive wine and hors d'oeuvre for everyone's enjoyment and nourishment. However, there was far too much wine and far too little food. Every time a food tray appeared, the poor waitress was jumped upon by a crowd of hungry researchers and raided for all she (or, more accurately, her food tray) was worth.

The food was completely abominable, too. Various varieties of dead animals. The only vegetarian options I saw were plates of deep-fried mushroom balls. Yum. Needless to say, I didn't eat or drink anything, nor did I have much opportunity to.

As the night wore on the who's who of the World Wide Web became more and more drunk. Give famous and powerful innovators, researchers and academics lots of free alcohol and they turn into "high-class" swaying, stammering simpletons. The British are especially renowned for their joy in and expertise at getting themselves utterly and completely drunk. It is, after all, the supreme form of enjoyment.

It was however a good opportunity to meet and rub shoulders with like-minded people from all over the world. I met lots of folks from my alma mater, Southampton University. However, with 1200 delegates attending, it was a bit too overwhelming. With so many people it is difficult to get to know anyone.

Feel free to browse the pictures of this event, as well as the rest of the conference here.

Gaura Purnima Swansea 2006

17 March 2006 | 60 Comments | Tags: , ,

25|1I attended a great Gaura Purnima celebration in Swansea.

Shortly after I arrived I was roped into giving the morning class. Even though I didn't have time to prepare anything, by Krishna's grace, I managed to speak something (mostly repeating things I heard from recorded talks of my spiritual master, as is the param-para system). I talked about how Maharaja Pariksit was completely detached from all his kingdom and wealth and how we can also enjoy a similar level of high-class consciousness, in spite of vastly inferior qualification, by the mercy of Lord Caitanya. Money can't buy what a devotee has. Indeed, most billionaires are in such much anxiety that they can't even sleep properly.

I managed to chant 31 rounds throughout the day. Fasting frees up so much time. It's amazing how much time we spend eating. We'd have so much time, if only it were possible to fast all the time.

However, due to fasting, I wasn't able to do much service - I did as much as I could, but by the end of the (very long) day I could hardly even lift my arms.

My old friend Carana Renu and Mukunda attended. It was really nice to catch up with them. They are very forward thinking devotees. I also spoke with many other friends, both old and new. Realization: talking with devotees is so natural. I feel completely at ease chatting to them. There is none of the awkwardness or discomfort that is often present in mundane interactions. This is because there is no false ego involved in the exchange. Neither party is thinking: "what's in this for me? How can I enjoy?" Everything is for Krishna's pleasure instead.

The kirtan was out-of-this-world. I lost myself chanting. It was pure happiness, completely off the mental platform. Such relief. Such bliss. Such fun.

Nimai Pandit and company cooked a lavishly beautiful feast. The prasadam tasted great, the devotees' service was very personal and caring and there was a nice family atmosphere.

Ah, Krishna consciousness: there simply is nothing better than this! (... and I took lots of pictures, too, so enjoy)

The Power of a Greeting

20 February 2006 | 4 Comments | Tags: , ,

Greetings are so powerful.

Good hotels, restaurants and conference centers employ one person (sometimes even two!) for no other purpose than saying "good morning" to people as they come in the door.

The Srimad Bhagavatam advocates that every guest must be offered at least some nice words of greeting, a seat and some water (SB 1.18.28). Samika Rishi got himself in trouble because he did not offer these to Maharaja Parikshit. There is even a special hellish planet for those people who fail to greet their guests properly.

When a guest enters one's house or (especially!) one's temple or outreach center one should drop everything and immediately rush to greet that guest. That guest should be made to feel so super-welcome that they can not help but desire to come back again and again. Ignoring guests is mega-dangerous, counter-productive and not good for business.

Why the Big Bang does not make sense

13 February 2006 | 3 Comments | Tags: ,

Standard big bang theory states that the amount of space in the universe is increasing, but the amount of matter is fixed.

If you take any amount of matter and compress it into a single point, that point becomes infinitely dense (and infinitely hot). That was what was supposed to have been the state of the universe at the time of the big bang. However, the mathematical formulas for understanding the laws of nature don't work when one of the starts putting in "infinity". You get all kinds of nonsense results. So, really smart physicists have come up with all kinds of theories and speculations as to how to tweak the model in order to make the impossibility of the big bang infinity work.

Now, a few billion years after the big bang, scientists observe that everything in the universe is moving away from everything else. The common analogy is to describe it as a loaf of yeasted raisin bread rising. The raisins are the matter in the universe and the bread is the empty space. As the empty space increases (the bread rises) the raisins move further away from each other. The number of raisins (amount of matter) remains the same, but the size of the bread (universal empty space) increases.

Then you get into what and where the matter in the universe is. 99% of it is this mysterious dark matter or dark energy that no one knows what it is and no one can detect, but must be there to make the mathematics work.

So, all in all, the physicists have no clue, they are just guessing wildly. Check out Carana Renu??(TM)s blog, a good friend of mine who has a PhD in astrophysics.

As I mentioned in this blog posting of mine: looking into the 5000-year old Vedic literature of ancient India sheds some light on the mystery. Those writings state that there are an unlimited number of parallel universes, each finite in the amount of matter they contain. Within each universe there are roughly 36000 cycles of partial creations and destructions (one might call them big bangs and big crunches) before one particular universe is completely destroyed (after 311 trillion years). Within the universe humans occupy only a tiny amount of space. The Vedas state that there are 14 different loka-systems (literally: places). Earth and reality as we see it occupies only one of these. The most advanced living beings in this universe live in a place called Satyaloka (literally: perfected-place) (and yes indeed, human beings are not the pinnacle of evolution). The big bang doesn't kill the people in that supreme sphere of existence. They only die after 311 trillion years (lifetime of Brahma) when the actual universe is destroyed (sucked into a skin pore of Maha-Vishnu).

So, from the Vedic perspective, it is no wonder that the Universe doesn't make sense to the scientists, since most of it is in different (higher-dimensional?) space which we can't understand with our limited, low-class material bodies.

... and I have not even mentioned the spiritual reality where time does not exist.

Saturday Feast (and Buddhism)

26 January 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

23|1Last Saturday I hosted a Saturday Feast at my flat. Nanda Sunu, Tejpal, Ben and Joy attended. It was nice to have all their association. Good association keeps me out of trouble (smile).

On the menu:

  • Quinoa, Tomato and Cucumber Salad
  • Vegetarian Sheppard??(TM)s Pie
  • Zucchini, Green Pepper and Tomato Subji
  • Almond & Pea Rice
  • Sunflower Seed Cookies

Among other things we discussed various philosophies including Buddhism. This verse and purport from the Caitanya Caritamrita explains the flaws in the nine fundamental principles of Buddhism. It's an interesting read.

However, as stated in the purport, logical argument is boring and useless. We can argue, speculate and discuss as long as we like, but, in the end, everything comes down to the direct conscious experience of Krishna. The proof of the pudding is in the eating: Krishna consciousness.

Check out some pictures of the event. Nanda Sunu has also blogged about it.

George Best: taste for sense objects remains

26 November 2005 | 85 Comments | Tags: ,

The death of superstar footballer George Best was the talk of the office yesterday. I??(TM)d never heard of the guy, but apparently he had all kinds of problems. One of my colleagues remarked how amazing it was that despite having a liver translate and knowing that any alcohol could kill him, he still could not give up drinking.

I picked up a Bhagavad-Gita from my desk, opened it to verse 59 in chapter two and handed it to her. It certainly got her thinking. She read the verse about five times and then studied the purport.

In the end she asked if one had to be vegetarian to practice this process. I explained it??(TM)s a natural result of the practice and not really a big deal. She replied that she just liked the taste of meat too much: anyway, It??(TM)s natural to eat meat, right? I didn??(TM)t press the argument (and she does like the prasadam that I make every week).

She asked a few more questions, but then got distracted by her laptop (IBM Thinkpad) spontaneously rebooting itself.

Practitioners of Krishna consciousness (Vedicsoc: session #5)

17 November 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

21|1Here the promised set of pictures from Vedicsoc session #5. All 18 of these people have practiced Krishna consciousness to some extent, or are indeed very distinguished Vaisnavas. I narrated the stories of when, where and how these people came upon Krishna consciousness and where they ended up because of it.

Apologies to anyone how embarrassed by my using them as an example. Just keep in mind that it was for a greater good.

You can view the gallery here.

In case you are wonder who some of these people are. Here a run-down of names (left to right):

  1. Lord Brahma
  2. Dhruva Maharaja
  3. Steve Jobs
  4. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura
  5. Bhakta Tirtha Swami
  6. Ambarish Das / Alfred Ford
  7. Elias and Mangala Vaisnava Das
  8. George Harrison
  9. Krishna
  10. Narada Muni and Vyasadeva
  11. Devamrita Swami
  12. Sukanti Radha Devi Dasi
  13. Bhakta Hitesh
  14. Hriman Krishna Das
  15. Carana Renu Devi Dasi and Mukunda Das
  16. Atmananda Das
  17. Vrinda Devi Dasi
  18. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

K-CAP day 5: aftermath

7 October 2005 | 1 Comments | Tags: , , , ,

Today, over breakfast, I was at a table with various high-powered researchers. One of them has been up all night writing an "emergency paper" for the boss of a friend. The topic of schmoozing came up.

They enlightened me that it is very important to complement even the most senior speaker on their keynote presentation. The may seem like they are all-powerful and supremely intelligent, but, in reality, they are just as insecure as everyone else about whether they did a good job and people liked their talk. The trick is to boost their ego, become their friend and get them to help you out.

Research is mostly funded by various government agencies (EPSRC and JISC in the UK and DARPA and NASA in the US). At big conferences there are invite-only "brainstorming" sessions where the agency??(TM)s officers discuss with the researchers what the next big research grant should focus on. This is a chance for the University professors to argue that their line of research is best and should be funded (even if it isn??(TM)t ??¦ in fact: especially if it isn??(TM)t).

The key in these brainstorming sessions is to injecting one's ideas into as many other peoples??(TM) mind as possible before these meetings. It??(TM)s a horrible thing to do and one may have to have a shower afterwards to wash off the slime, but the more people argue one??(TM)s case, the better the chance of getting the money.

However, in the end, all this is somewhat of a pretense. The actual decision is made in the pub after the session. The grant officers will give the contract to their friends. Their friends are their drinking buddies. The really successful researchers are those that manipulate the social scene to make everyone their friend. For example, people like Wendy Hall and Nigel Shadbolt are primarily famous not because they are brilliant researchers (though, of course, that must also be there), but because they knows everyone and everyone knows them.

What, if you don't drink? Well, better start soon.

It works the same in most industries. Film producers for example spend most of their time in the five year production cycle of a film going to cocktail parties meeting the potential funders, potential actors and potential directors. They negotiate the production crew over a few drinks. Sometimes a key member will pull out of the agreement and they need to go to more parties to recruit new staff.

Ministers in the Greek government spend most of their time at the ministry drinking coffee with one another. The do this because they need to know that they can pick up the phone, talk to a friend, ask for a report and get it delivered to them next morning.

In the UK and USA beer replaces coffee. Each country has its own style.

When one then finally has the grant money one often can't spend it fast enough. If one doesn't spend all of the money one has been granted, then one obviously didn't need it in the first place, so one will get less next time. Some projects therefore need to get very creative in how they can burn money. They will, for example, finance trips overseas for the entire research group. Even then, sometimes one simply cannot spend enough of the government grant money. In such cases one needs to extend the grant due to "staffing issues". In other words, in order to fudge the records one, once again, needs to be in cahoots with the right people.

K-CAP day 3: banquet

6 October 2005 | 3 Comments | Tags: , , ,

This evening was the official conference banquet at a restaurant called "the Keg Steakhouse" (groan). The conference organizers had informed them of one vegan guest within the dinner party. One of the waiters asked me if it was me and joked that he wouldn't tell anybody. He considered it quite a ridicules idea. Nevertheless, they had prepared a special meal for me: tofu in soy sauce appetizer, green salad with tomato and raw peppers, brown rice with little bits of chopped vegetables mixed throughout, no dessert (the idea of a vegan cake/dessert was completely beyond them). These people really need to learn to cook! I guess they specialize in killing innocent animals and distilling poisonous liquids.

More interestingly, I got a chance to talk with a professor from Jena Universit??t in Germany. He is at the forefront of automated text mining and natural language processing (NLP) research. The next day he gave a very interesting presentation on automatically extracting the important technical terms from a large corpus of text.

The professor was talking about his lifestyle. He loved the isolation of the New Zealand South Island, which he has visited three times. Untouched nature. Not a human in sight for miles.

This is very much in contrast to Tokyo, Japan. In Tokyo everything is grey. You cannot tell where you are. Grey concrete everywhere. He was staying on the eighth floor of a hotel and the motor-highway was just three meters away from his window. How so? In Tokyo, due to lack of space, they stack their highways vertically. Outside his window was the fourth level of a super-highway. A true vertical city. Even at 3am there was continuous traffic on a seven lane highway going into the city. After all, the 36 million people in the world's largest city need to somehow be feed every day. Metropolitan life in the very extreme. I wonder what it does to the people?

Still, he was attached to life in Europe. He would never want to live anywhere but there. The cities have so much more history than anywhere else. Each place has a distinct history and personality.

Life as a professor isn't rosy. He travels around the world presenting his research in so many exotic places, but doesn't have any time to enjoy them. Here he is in Canada, but doesn't have time to enjoy any of the sites, because he is too busy preparing his next presentation. Giving a keynote address at a conference is a great honor, but giving five of them per year very quickly turns into a burden. Then there is reviewing other people's papers. Well known researchers need to review their peer's work. For example, he needs to write an elaborate explanation for each research paper from Asian researchers which doesn't meet the western standard of innovative research. Japanese researchers tend to take a too mechanistic approach to research, which doesn't teach anyone anything new. Then there are the many academic funding committees. He needs to help determine if a particular project gets government research grant money. On top of that comes his own research. He needs to write and publish papers of his own to stay in business. Then, of course, comes the job of teaching his students. PhD and Masters students need to be supervised. Undergraduates need to be lectured to and their exams marked. Sometime between all of that there is (maybe) a little thing called family life.

Still, such a life certainly isn't boring. Discovering truly new things and significantly enhancing the knowledge of humanity has its appeal.

Initiation in Swansea (2005)

18 September 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: , ,

18|1I've posted the audio and pictures of a recent initiation ceremony in Swansea, Wales. Devamrita Swami initiated two new disciples:

Simon, the ex-carpenter who built most of the Cardiff Soul Centre became:

Suki Krishna (Krishna who is always happy)

When they met for the first time Devamrita Swami took one look at Tara and thought: "She's a devotee. I recognized that this person is meant for serving Krishna without delay". After graduating with a degree in photography and spending a year in New Zealand very seriously and compassionately distributing books she became:

Sukanti Radha (Srimati Radharani with the sweet/auspicious voice)

Darth Vader = my personality type

14 August 2005 | 2 Comments | Tags: ,

Guardian Inspector (ISTJ: Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging)

Overview:

  • Extremely thorough, responsible, and dependable.
  • Serious and quiet, interested in security and peaceful living.
  • Well-developed powers of concentration.
  • Usually interested in supporting and promoting traditions and establishments.
  • Well-organized and hard working, they work steadily towards identified goals.
  • They can usually accomplish any task once they have set their mind to it.

Frequency: 6%

Star Trek type: Spock and Chief Miles O'Brien

Star Wars type: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin (this site also has links to some very good practical tips for the various different personalities)

Values:

  • Productivity
  • Conformity, Tradition, Duty and Service
  • Reliability, Etiquette, Protocols
  • Structure, Order, Attention to Detail

Leadership style:

  • Traditionalist, Stabilizer, Consolidator
  • Strategy Management, Logistics
  • Processes, Routines, Policies, Rules and Regulations

More about my personality:

Personality testing and evaluation:

  • Socionics has an excellent personality self-test and tool to evaluate how two different personalities relate with one another.

(Thanks to Sitapati and Tri-Yuga for the initial info)

Every leader should have a blog

23 July 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

I was listening to an excellent talk with Jonathan Schwartz, president and COO of Sun Microsystems. One of the many interesting things Jonathan said was that a blog is a great tool for leaders. Ever leader should have one. He uses his blog to communicate his ideas to his employees. They can also directly interact with him by posting comments and talkbacks. It effectively cuts through the corporate hierarchy and puts allows him, as a leader, to directly lead a large number of people. The result: massively decentralized decision making and management!

The alternative is to going through the usual management structure, down the multi-level corporate hierarchy. A process that is both slow and prone to Chinese whispers.

As to the danger of putting his corporate strategy up on the net for everyone, including competing companies, to read: "The competition's employees also read it and if they like what I'm saying better than what their boss is saying, they'll join Sun".

Disappearance festival of B.T. Swami

2 July 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Sitapati has posted a series of slideshows of the life and samadhi of His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami. They illustrate the great loss we've suffered upon the disappearance of this pure devotee. Check them out.