Saturday, 28 March 2015

Macro and extreme close-up photography


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The secret behind good macro-photography lies in opening up the aperture as much as it will go, having a steady hand, perhaps using a tripod or a monopod, and yes getting close and personal, even if it means that you could be bitten by that nasty looking honey bee! You really don’t need a DSLR to get good quality Macro photographs, but then I guess having a DSLR makes good sense. To make photographing insects more interesting, focus on the eyes. For still life objects, focus on a point of interest. Another point of interest is that while composing your shot, follow the rule of thirds! Generally the focal point is not in the centre of the photograph, rather it leads you away  from the centre. The photographs pasted below are examples where the photographer has tried to follow these rules. Last but not least, there are times when you really can’t depend on automatic focus and you would have to shift to manual focus. This is because the Camera's sensor might not be getting enough contrast in the image and so might be focussing on a distant or nearby object, thus ruining an otherwise beautiful snap!
Photographs taken using a DSLR (Canon 1100D)
Macro
Insects

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Extreme Close ups using a DSLR (Canon 1100D)
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Macro and Extreme Close ups taken with a Non-DSLR Camera ( Olympus SP-600UZ) A Bridge Camera
Rodrick Rajive Lal
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A Family that works together and Celebrates together is an Inclusive family that shares a success story!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

A Book Release of 'When The Earth Shall Melt' written by Revd.Sunil Solomon Ghazan


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It was a matter of great honour for me to be called to the lectern by Revd. Sunil Solomon Ghazan for the release of his book, When The Earth Shall Melt during the second service of the Epiphany Church on Sunday, the Fifteenth of March 2015.
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The book itself is a description of the visions seen by Revd. Ghazan, and written almost entirely based on what was revealed to him. A book based on mankind’s impact on this Earth, in terms of environmental degradation, a total lack of spirituality and a life based on selfishness is bound to lead to the melting of the Earth. The melting of the Earth itself is not the end all of life on Earth, rather it marks the beginning of a new world order, a re-birth of life in a new way.
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A book that has a title taken from 2 Peter 3:12, describes how the  irresponsible behaviour of mankind towards the environment, nature, one another and a total distancing from one’s maker will ultimately lead to dire consequences. While I wouldn’t really say that the book predicts Armageddon or end of life in the sense of some of the sensational movies based on a dramatic meteor strikes or polar shifts in magnetic fields, I would very strongly say that the author in the book has based his predictions  on what is already there in the Bible. What he has done is to state the obvious, if only mankind would take a pause from his hectic schedule and delve into the messages of wisdom contained in the Scriptures.
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This is a book for all beliefs and faiths and not just any one particular faith. It is a book for the scientist discovering new secrets, it is for the statesman planning new policies, it is for the student studying the sensitive balance that exists between man and nature, it is for the leader of religious faith warning him not to mislead others from the true faith, it is also for the politician who intends to divide people on the basis of faith for his own benefit. The warning is, ‘Don’t do it lest the Earth should Melt!’

Note: The book, published by Partridge Publications is available on Amazon. For further information you can contact: www.partridgepublishing.com/india or call: 000 800 1062 62

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Last Lesson, Memories of Childhood, and Elementary School Classroom have Social Activism as an important theme


Perhaps one of the good things the CBSE Board has done for students of the grade twelve English Core course is to include a judicious selection of literature lessons deal with the theme of social activism on social issues that affect the society in a big way. This is a theme that most students can connect to, making lessons socially and contextually relevant. The increasing need to connect classroom learning to everyday life, has meant that the lessons are connected to everyday life issues that students will relate to. One of the common strands that connects these lessons is the theme of Social Activism. One suggestion to teachers therefore, is to teach all lessons with a similar theme together as one unit so that students can make connections between different lessons that deal with a common theme. This will also help students make important connections to the social issues that they will have come across either directly or indirectly. The teaching of these lessons will help the privileged to appreciate their being more blessed than the others, it will help sensitize them to the problems faced by the less privileged, and for the majority of those who are not so blessed economically or in terms of caste, these lessons will help give them the much needed hope and encouragement for transcending these social barriers. Take for example, the learning that Bama was able to glean from her brother Annan who told her how the stigma of caste could be transcended through excellence in education.
Some of the lessons that share the common theme of social activism include The Last Lesson, Lost Spring, An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum from the Flamingo Textbook, and Memories of Childhood from the Vistas Textbook. To start with The Last Lesson, the central theme of this lesson is linked with the suppression  of a community on the basis of language and region. In this case, a notice had come from Berlin which contained the message that French would no longer be taught in the annexed provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, and instead, German would be taught. Linguistic Chauvinism, as we call it deals with the imposition of a language other than that of a community for the basic idea of taking away their sense of togetherness, their spirit, and their identity. Examples of Linguistic Chauvinism continue to exist in our society and in our country and it can not be said that the student is not aware of it. When a country is invaded, then the invaders bring with them their language which they impose upon the conquered  as a way of imposing their culture, and their hegemony. From the sociological perspective, this is a continuous process and subversion of societies on the basis of language and culture have been studied in depth.
Memories of Childhood a lesson found in the supplementary textbook of the English Core syllabus for grade ten. The lesson deals with social activism as professed by Zitkala-Sa and Bama. Both women, separated by time and Geography have one thing in common, they both wrote about the suppression of Marginalised communities by mainstream communities. In the case of Zitkala-Sa, it was about the imposition of Western culture over the Native Indian culture of Ethnic Indians living in America. Zitkala-Sa was a witness to the process of westernisation in one of the western schools for Indians, the Carlisle Indian school. If one would call it a process of re-education, then I guess one wouldn’t be really far from the point. One might point out the the process of indoctrinations and brain-washing of people during the cold war when people who lived in Socialist countries were brain-washed and indoctrinated against the attacks of the Imperialist countries. In the case of Bama, it was all about writing about the scourge of the Caste system prevailing in India. Bama, a Tamil Dalit woman wrote about the evils of the Caste system that prevails in various parts of the country. She describes how she was able to overcome the stigma by studying hard and achieving success in education.
Stephen Spender a believer in Socialist ideology and pacifism, brings out the theme of poverty and education, and in  in his poem, An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum found in the Flamingo Textbook. The message that Stephen Spender attempts to bring out in his poem is that it is mere wishful thinking to believe that you can educate impoverished children and thus liberate them from the fog of misery that threatens to choke them on the spot. What Stephen Spender wants ‘governor, inspector,visitor’ to do is to “Break O break open till they break the town’. The idea is that you need to rid the society of the barriers that separate the poor from the rich. You need to address problems of poverty before attempting to educate the poor! An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum is a hard hitting poem that seeks to burst the bubble of complacency of people who think they have done their level best by donating a picture of Shakespeare’s face or a picture of a magnificent building to a school for slum children for their emancipation. What happens in reality is that these donations far from emancipating the poor children in fact lead to their edification, they are reminded of the abject state of poverty they live in, and some of them  resort to illegal means in order to achieve the good things in life as represented by the donations of ‘Shakespeare’s head’ and ‘civilized dome’. Elementary School Classroom is thematically connected to the Lesson Lost Spring found in the textbook, Flamingo. Lost Spring deals with the scourge of child labour that flourishes in India. Both, An Elementary School Classroom and Lost Spring, written by Anees Jung, a Social Activist, deal with the impact of poverty on the society. In Elementary School Classroom, poverty is an overwhelming disease which threatens to snuff out hope and enterprise in children who in the ideal sense are supposed to be future leaders of the country. In Lost Spring, Poverty is the main reason why children are forced to work at an early age, they become ‘partners in survival’ shouldering the burden of earning a living along with their parents. The expression “children’s faces. Like rootless weeds’ in the poem connects directly with Anees Jung’s description about how the “squatters”  in Seemapuri “pitch their tents that become transit homes” wherever they find food. For the people living in Seemapuri in an “an abject state of poverty”, the most important factor is to have one square meal in a day, and for the children in Elementary School Classroom, food is a crucial issue, the children studying in that classroom are thin and weak to the point of  being unable to hold their “head” they are stunted in growth and  another student is described as a “paper seeming boy, with rat’s eyes”. You have two lessons belonging to two different countries and yet sharing the same theme of Social Activism. Social Activism is exactly what the writers of the two lessons have resorted to by writing their pieces!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Meaning of Education according to Aldous Huxley (with reference to his novel–Island)

While reading Huxley’s “Island”, a philosophical novel categorized as a modern classic, I was particularly drawn to his ideas on education as described specifically in the thirteenth chapter of the book. While no doubt, the whole novel is a treatise on the impact of  greed, mass communication, increasing population and expansionism on the individual, education can be seen as the only palliative that can rid us of these de-humanising influences.
What Huxley wrote in 1962 on education on the Utopian Island Pala does have significance even today, in an age where modern day educationists have begun modifying pedagogy to accommodate experiential learning, holistic learning, and integrating the timeless qualities of respect for one another, the environment,  inclusion, and collaboration  in their learners. Huxley addressed major issues in the field of education in 1962, in his book “Island” which are relevant even today! Take for the example, “the criterion of a good school”, what emerges from the dialogue between Will, the protagonist in the novel (who is also the mouth piece for the inquisitive ant curious Huxley) and Mr. Menon, the Under Secretary of Education is that it is based on ‘ “Success” ‘ in achieving “actualization, for being turned into full-blown human beings”. As a corollary, to the above, the boys and girls undergoing education on the island of Pala are not being trained for mass consumption, mass communication, mass advertising, mass opiates, nor are they strengthening the “the national state” nor are they meant to be trained to be cannon fodder, industry fodder, agriculture fodder or even road building fodder”! The criterion of a good school is  one which allows students and learners to become what they really are and not what the state tells them to be! True self actualization is arrived when the learners recognise who they are, they are able to achieve their full potential and are able to integrate themselves into the society without allowing their individual differences to create a disruption to the society. This brings the idea of how to maintain discipline in the school, and how to ensure that the students maintain discipline after school.
In the thirteenth chapter of his novel, Island,Huxley talks about preventive interventional  treatment of students with behavioural problems. He talks about a regimen that might be somewhat difficult to follow even today, but then who knows that this might be possible in days to come, ( In any case, schools are today equipping themselves with the services of medical personnel and counsellors in a big way)? To address discipline related problems, Huxley suggests, through Mr. Menon that schools should start with an early diagnosis of weaknesses in students and this should be followed by early intervention. Intervention and treatment according to Huxley include addressing the mind and the nervous system, giving hyperactive students appropriate physical work so as to moderate excess energy, allowing students with disparate character traits to sit in mixed groups (in today’s terms, crew setting), channelizing fears, energies, and power towards a specific goal. Huxley goes on to suggests how, “Potentially harmful power” can be “directed into channels where it’s not merely harmless, but may actually do some good.”
Huxley makes it clear that there is a need to distinguish between visualizers and non visualizers, where the former think in terms of geometrical terms, while the latter preferred algebra and imageless abstractions.
As far as the subjects that the students in Pala study and when they study, and the pedagogy is concerned, Mr. Menon clearly states that any “intelligent student can learn practically anything provided always that you present it to him in the right way.” He goes on to suggest that even the most abstruse and vague concepts can be taught through games. Games can be used to implant an understanding of the basic principles. Thus,  even a game of spinning cards, drawing lots, playing with cards, especially flash cards can be used effectively. The purpose of teaching Chemistry and Physics at the school level should be to impart the “sciences of life and mind” to school students! When asked when the Palanese students start the teaching of science, Mr. Menon replies,  that it is at the same time when they start teaching multiplication and division. What I believe is that Mr. Menon is not talking about the right age, but the right cognitive development or the right cognitive stage is what determines when a student learns a particular subject. An interesting description of what progressive schools today term as expeditionary pedagogy, or for that effect, experiential learning can be seen in progress in the description of how students at the New Rothamsted School in Pala study Biology. Mrs. Naraynan, the Principal describes how the students learn the different parts and functions of the flower. Each student is given a common flower. The students are asked to examine the flower and then they are told to “write a full analytical description of the flower, illustrated by an accurate drawing.” The ideal expeditionary pedagogy for teaching a student about environmental degradation would probably be to arrange for a visit to ten acres of gullies and blowing sand. What matters in this case is to develop environmental morality to show how our treatment of nature will affect the quality of life!
The overall process of formal  education in Pala flows from an understanding of the structure of the topic or unit followed by an analysis of the logic behind the topic. This reminds me of Dr. Dennis Litky’s suggestion that students learn the “Big Picture”  instead of the metaphysics of the unit or the topic. What this means can be summed up as cutting out the extraneous and instead focussing on the core topics – chunking as some would call it. The metaphysics of the topic or the unit can often overwhelm us. Take for example reading comprehension. When I went into my grade twelve class and at the beginning of the Note-Making class asked my student how many of them really knew how read, all of them raised their hands, except for a couple of students who smelled something fishy. I then told them that what they thought about reading was not really reading. Told them how most of them were really reading for data and information and not ideas! In the recent Board twelve papers, many students struggle through the first section which was because they spent too much time on the two reading comprehension passages and the one note making passage. They went too deep into the passages, and if they didn’t know the meaning of a particular word, then they fretted and spent so much time on it that they lost track of the central idea of the passage, and then as a result they had to go back to the very beginning of the passage. They were to fixated with facts, they were too analytical, they over analysed each sentence, each word so much so that they lost everything! It was for this reason that when I went to class this time, I told my students to simply let go of their previous apprehensions, and preconceptions and to to just read the passage with an open mind. I told them not to spend too much time on a word whose meaning they did not know and instead to move on. I gave them five minutes to read a difficult passage and at the end of the three minutes, most of them could describe the central idea, and the supporting ideas! Students according to Huxley need a “Training in receptivity” in contretemps to “training in analysis and symbol manipulation” where symbols represent the language component of educational pedagogy. In such cases, the importance of pure receptivity cannot be underpinned! Some of our students, in the interests of  experiential and progressive pedagogy have been so spoiled that they go on asking one question after another and simply not move on with their reading.
The mention of the word questions reminds about how some of the best classes I have observed have included those where lead through judicious questions put up by the teacher. In many cases, tactfully posed questions can lead students to the truth or what is evident but not stated in writing or textbooks. Huxley suggests how important the art of questioning is when he describe how Will the protagonist of the novel Island gets to observe a lesson in Elementary Applied Philosophy. In this class the learners try to explain what it was that Mahakasyapa had been able to understand from the Buddha’s wordless flower sermon where he showed the gathering a white flower. The answers that the students present to their teacher’s strategically placed questions steadily draws them to what might be an obvious answer. Many a times we are not able to look at the obvious picture stating at us in the face because our minds are cluttered with  so many things. Call it over analysis, or information over load, what ever it is, unless we develop the Mahakasyapa attitude towards learning, we will never be learners of ideas!
Reference:
Island –Huxley Aldous, Flamingo-1994

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Evans "The Break", tries an O Level , and has the last laugh!

Reflecting on the story, Evans tries an 0 level, one can’t help accepting that it was Evans who had the last laugh! He had pitched himself against the whole prison establishment and emerged the victor! Everyone, Jackson, the senior prison officer, his subordinate, Stephens, the Governor of H.M. Prison, Oxford, of them were fooled by this clever and witty prison inmate!
Jackson and Stephens were taken on a ride by Evans in spite of their diligence. Evans was able to identify their ‘human weaknesses’ and he exploited it to devise a clever scheme for walking out of the prison, literally escorted by non-other than a prison officer! For the first half hour, Stephens peeps through the peep-hole looking at Evans hard at work on the German paper, presenting the ‘evil eye’ at regular intervals. Gradually he tires and lets down his guard. Evans knows that Regularity of habit is the greatest weakness that a captive can find in his captors. It is this regularity and subsequent boredom in Stephens that he exploits to make a change of costumes, taking from the fake Mc.Leary the minister’s costume. Besides being slaves to routine and regularity, Jackson and Stephens were too familiar with Evans and as such there was a soft corner in their minds for Evans. The unnecessary banter that they have with him before the exam exposes the weaknesses they have. One needs to maintain a professional distance, especially where it is the question of keeping a watchful eye on prisoners. Familiarity exposes one's weaknesses which can then be exploited by unscrupulous and scheming people like Evans.
It goes without saying that Evans preys on human weaknesses, emotions, and perceptions to make good his escape from the prison. The way he does it can only leave the reader chuckling! Evans depends on the impact that the sight of blood on his head would have on Stephens - the less experienced of the two prison guards assigned to him. Evans is a clever person who understands how perceptions and emotions can be exploited in order to sway rational judgment. Like a big fool, Stephens lets shock, bewilderment, and irrationality cloud his rational judgment and jumps to the conclusion that it is McLeary who is is bleeding and not Evans under the guise of McLeary! Yes, Evans does play with human perceptions, especially by getting under the skin of people and working on their minds, playing mind games, fretting and chewing away at rationality so that he gets them to look at the wrong picture rather than the obvious. The sight of blood and the matted hair on the head is so dramatic that it draws the viewer's attention away from what is obvious. The first thing that the observer would think is, Oh, goodness, that is a head injury, it must be McLeary, after all why would McLeary attack Evans?
Evans fools the two prison officers, Jackson and Stephens, the Governor of the prison and also  Deputy Superintendent Carter through his excellent impersonation of the Revd. S.McLeary. The added impact of the photocopied sheet that had been attached to the blank page in the question paper. The message on the page leads everyone on a wild goose and reinforces their impression that Evans had attacked the cleric, the words read, ‘Don’t hit him too hard’. When the Deputy Superintendent arrives, the bleeding man offers to lead them to Evans, and off they go, Carter and Evans on a wild goose chase to Elsefield Way, chasing an imaginary Evans, who they don’t know is sitting the policeman's car! The manner in which Evans gets off the car supposedly to get his wounds looked at and then disappears from under the very nose of Mr. Carter is something that will bring a smile on the reader's lips!
The Governor himself thought he was smart enough to handle ‘Evans the break’'!’ The Governor is a slave to processes which include placing a microphone in Evans’ cell, assigning two prison officers to him, placing Evans in D-Wing, separated by two doors, all processes bereft of straightforward, level-headed thinking! The Governor’s smartness was the very thing that Evans took advantage of. After he comes to know that there was no one by the name of Evans at the Radcliff hospital, the Governor gets the chit of paper mentioning the Golden Lion Hotel, and it includes the coordinates of the location. This is exactly the effect that Evans was expecting, that the Governor would become so overcome by his smartness that he would believe the information was genuine. In fact, this information had been planted in order to stoke the Governor and make him let down his guard. In the meantime, the prison van arrive. Who had asked for it, well, the Governor doesn’t even think of it. Little does he know that it had been arranged for by Evan’s Confederates!
It was planned that the Governor should apprehend Evans at the Golden Lion hotel, thus letting down his guard once again, and allowing to be taken to the prison in the prison van that had been commandeered by Evans’ own friends.  The two prime mistakes that the Governor had made was not to have permitted Evans to leave in Mr. Carter’s car, and secondly never to have let Evans out of his sight, even if it meant taking his car, rather than the prison van!
Yes, Evans does have the last laugh having fooled a whole prison set up, and even the police department as represented by Carter. The final act of foolishness of the Governor in letting Evans go by the prison van proves that the Governor was, ‘just another good-for-a-giggle, gullible governor’! In this battle of wits, it is the criminal who gets away, for the basic fact that he is a better judge of human character, and that he is able to prey on the apprehensions, irrationalities, and sense of confidence that makes the keepers of law let down their guard. It is about playing on perceptions, pampering egos, and then making good one's escape!
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