Sunday, March 31, 2013

Concert at the Yoga Farm: Uma Reed & Friends

Yesterday, at the Yoga Farm, there was a concert by a kirtan group Uma Reed & Friends.  The kirtan program was enjoyable, but what I found more noteworthy were the stories by one of the members of the group, Shivaya.

Shivaya had spent a number of years as a wandering sadhu in India.  He had spent time with Neem Karoli Baba in Rishikesh in the foothills of the himalayas.  Neem Karoli Baba didn't have a very high opinion of many of the practicing gurus at that time, but he did have a high regard for Swami Sivananda (the Yoga Farm was started by a disciple of Swami Sivananda).  He told us a couple of interesting stories of Neem Karoli Baba.

The first story was about a time when Swami Chidanana, a disciple of Swami Sivanada, who succeeded Swami Sivananda as the head of the ashram in Rishikesh, came to meet Neem Karoli Baba.  He brought with him a bag containing six oranges.  That day, as visitors came to the ashram, he'd pick an orange out of the bag and give it to them.  After more than twenty people had visited and they were about the leave for the day, Neem Karoli Baba handed the bag back to Swami Chidananda who was surprised that there were still six oranges in the bag.

The second story about about several occasions when Neem Karoli baba visited the Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh; the chowkidaar (security guard) at the front gate never noticed him entering or leaving.

I was intrigued by Shivaya's background (from living as a sadhu to returning to the material world), so I went up to speak to him after the program.  I asked him why he left the life of a sadhu to return to the material world.  He said it was thrown to him as a challenge by someone and somehow he was able to carry the peace with him.  He also told of his miraculous healing from gangrene while he was a sadhu.  I asked him if he had ever met yogis that were very old. (I had heard about such yogis from a person that visits holy places in the himalayas regularly.)  He mentioned he had met one that was 138 years old and another that he knows to still be alive at 163.

When I got back home, I googled around for information about Neem Karoli Baba.  I found it interesting that Julia Roberts was inspired to practice Hinduism because she saw of a picture of his.

I wrote this post to share a couple of stories I heard that my scientific mind finds hard to believe.  I don't know that I have resolved for myself whether material life only, spiritual life only, or both are important.  For now, I'm trying to live a little of both.

Update 11/5/2013

Shivaya passed away on 11/02/2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Life of Pi

I watched Life of Pi a few months ago.  It was an interesting film and special effects were quite nicely done.  The reason for this post is not because I want to write a detailed review of the film.  It's more because it left me kind of disturbed.

The two key takeaways that I left the film with were:
  • The meaning of life is whatever you choose to give it.  In the movie, the main character tells 2 versions of the same story and ask people which one they prefer.  Since there is no way to verify what actually happened, they are free to pick the version that appeals more to them.  In some sense, that is the case with life as well.  Two people, presented with the same circumstances, will interpret things completely differently based on their value system.
  • At a basic level humans are not very different from animals.  Throw out civilization, and the need to survive can turn us into cannibals.  Through civilization, we have learnt how live with one another, created laws and rules for socially acceptable living, and, in many societies, by providing access to basic needs, have eliminated the need for a bare, ruthless existence where we kill and consume one another.  Yet, where it is socially acceptable, like for example in the world of business and politics, we see this kind of behavior (in a figurative sense) all the time.
Anyway, that was just my interpretation of the film.  I've talked about it with several friends and colleagues and many of them say based on what they've heard to be the message of the film, they'd rather not see it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A new host for my web page

I attended graduate school in the Electrical and Computer Engineering departments at Duke University where I built my first home page. I just had a bunch of HTML files all in a folder public_html folder. My account and web pages there have been active all along. I started looking for alternatives for a similar service ever since I graduated (which was a long time ago).
These were my requirements:
  • Free (or nearly free). 
  • Allows me to provide my own HTML and CSS files. 
  • Strongly prefer no advertisements. 
Many years ago, Geocities provided such a service. Geocities was subsequently acquired by Yahoo, and Yahoo later discontinued the service. So I had to look for yet another alternative.

Most places that advertise that they offer free websites don't really offer the control of hosting your own HTML files (or even if they did, I wasn't able to find it). Among several options that I explored were Google Sites, Weebly, and Wordpress. All of these require one to pick a pre-defined template and then edit content within the confines of that template. I never quite liked any of the templates. In fact, I'm not particularly crazy about the template of this blog, but it works. I kind of like things plain.

Dropbox

I was pleasantly surprised when I accidentally stumbled across someone that was hosting his HTML files on Dropbox. After confirming with him that that is indeed what he was doing, I created an account and moved my files over to Dropbox to be my new home on the web. It met all the 3 requirements that I stated above. Dropbox is actually a file sharing/file synchronization service. However, they have a public folder and anything that is put there can be shared with anyone. So one can have both HTML and non-HTML files and they would all be publicly accessible.

But all that ended in 2016...

Bitballoon

On 8/31/2016, I received the following email from Dropbox:
Hi Anoop, 
We’re writing to let you know that we’ll be discontinuing the ability to render HTML content in-browser via shared links or Public Folder. If you're using Dropbox shared links to host HTML files for a website, the content will no longer display in-browser. 
Please note that this change will take effect for your account on October 3, 2016, and only impacts how shared files are displayed on the web. Your files will remain safe in Dropbox. 
Thanks for being a loyal Dropbox user. 
- The Dropbox Team
As a result I started looking for another low-maintenance website.  I found a couple of blogs about this topic and quickly signed up for bitballoon.  My new site is at http://anoop.bitballoon.com.

If you would like to keep working with Dropbox

I later found out that there are at least a couple of ways to continue using Dropbox.  They are:
Both essentially allow you to render html files stored in a Dropbox Apps folder.  The main difference between them is that htmldrop will actually sync the files and thus provides better download times.

Other alternatives

Non-Dropbox alternatives that I explored


  • https://pages.github.com/ -- seems similar to bitballoon in terms of management complexity.

  • Here area a couple of blogs that discuss static web hosting alternatives.  Both are somewhat dated.