Friday, September 30, 2005

A quantum crime!

The other day I went for a talk by a writer. At the end, as usual, there was a question and answer session. One person from the audience, referred to a 'criminal' story written by the speaker, and whether it had any educational value. Apparently, what he meant was the 'crime' story written by the speaker (So, that should go in to my novel idea pile!). Now, here is a very educational crime story from the American Journal of Physics for your weekend reading. While we are at it, here is my not-so-detective-but-educational detective story.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The mathematisation of Tolstoy!

According to an article published in the August/September, 2005 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly,
In his great epic novel War and Peace Leo Tolstoy employs some striking mathematical metaphors to illustrate his theory of history and to explain the naivete and arrogance of placing the responsibility of history's direction on the shoulders of leaders of armies and nations. These metaphors are unlike any other mathematical references I have seen in literature.

This reminded me of the other Tolstoy reference in Mathematics. In a book on partial differential equations, I found this quote from Anna Karenina:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Apparently, ordinary differential equations are like happy families, while PDE's are like unhappy families. The AMM article also has intriguing questions of the order of "What are Tolstoy's variables?". An article worth taking a look at!

Open source and anthropology!

Does group research and digital collaboration make it open source? No, not in anthropology at least, according to Rex: Go here for the complete article - That delightful quote from Machiavelli alone is worth the effort, I assure you!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The birth of a new literary technique!

I have this fancy of writing a novel: it would consist of just the snatches of conversation one overhears in the Institute. The most difficult part of writing such a novel would be in getting the melange of accents, languages, and the moods right. But, if I ever manage, I would have started a new literary movement. Here are some samples:

My wife is doing PhD. She has a test next week. So, I am not planning to go home this weekend.
It will be a disturbance to her?
No, no... She will ask me to take care of the kid. Hi...Hi...Hi...

Kyun-ki, my explanation, is not... what do you call that?

Today, coffee is too sweet.
Yeah, no sugar at all. It is astrocious man!

Who is that babe?
Babe? She is fifty years old.
That is what!

How is this movie ...?
Comedy sooper-u; Movie vurust-u.

Today, it is too cold and no winds. It is going to rain.
Just sometime back we were discussing how windy it is.
It will rain only if it is humid, not if it is cold!

(In the event, it was windy, cold, and not humid. But it rained. The cyclone that crossed the Andhra coast must have been the culprit).

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Some anthropology links!

I got the link to this article of Ram Guha from here. For those of you who are interested in learning more about Prof. Beteille, here are two articles by him in Seminar; and, here is an interview with him. Finally, his thesis work on a Tanjore village (called Thillaisthanam) titled Caste, class, and power, is a must read (even though the field work was done 40 years ago - in 1965).

Here is an interview with another anthropologist (a link I got from here).

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blogging, old books, and dictionaries!

This post is triggered by the three links that I got from here:

(1) Will my blogging cause me trouble in finding tenure-track academic jobs? Well, looks like, yes and no!

(2) For the bibliophiles among you, who like 84, Charing cross road, second-hand book-shops, Pradeep Sebastian, and his inimitable endpaper column in the Hindu literary review supplement, here is a good read about saving second-hand book-stores.

(3) Finally, here is a review on a book about the history of OED (Even though the page says 'Full story displayed', I never got the full story - which is a pity). While we are on the topic of dictionaries, here is what Prof. Robert Cahn has to say about the meaningful work he carried out for OED.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Novel aspirations!

Recently, Abi had a post about writing theses and such technical stuff. His post also had some nice pointers. These two wonderful editorials of Prof. Balaram in Current Science, published sometime back, about science writing in English and the writing style for technical documents (which are missing in Abi's post) are also worth giving a try.

However, in this post of mine, I wish to link to a few resources for non-technical writing - specifically, writing novels; the first one is a few excerpts from Write Away of Elizabeth George. The second one is everything you need to know about writing successfully - in ten minutes - by Stephen King. Finally, here is an old interview with PD James, where she tells you why writing a detective novel is a 'good apprenticeship' if you have aspirations of becoming a serious novelist.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Googling blogs!

Long back, I read here this lovely sentence (italics mine):
Either way, this year the most prominent black speaker was the Education Secretary, Rod Paige — whose low public profile only a Google search could save from oblivion. And it was downhill from there.
Now google has come up with Google blog search; so, my blog will be saved from oblivion and live on the blogosphere for eternity - Boy! do I love google!

A fairy tale!

Long, long ago (and, it was not yesterday), a few venerable researchers came together over a cup of tea (though, I would prefer to think it to be a cup of coffee - but, even a storyteller has to respect the facts, you see) and decided to have a series of clandestine talks at 9:30 in the night; they called it 'Night Club' to make it a bit more appealing, and may be because it tickled them a little. Week after week, they talked about materials science, metallurgy, mathematics, physics, internet, web, and many other interesting things, while young researchers sat there awed in the presence of such great researchers, and learnt a bit of these subjects for themselves; they learnt how to ask a question without making the speaker feel like a moron; most importantly, they laughed all the time during the discussions, but never at each other. As time went by, to be called to 'perform' in the night club was an honour. And generation after generation of young researchers took up the responsibility of keeping the flame of night club on, and matured in the process into venerable researchers themselves. It was such a nice tradition, all the other departments from far and wide tried to emulate the original night clubbers - some succeeded and some didn't. And, finally, like all fairy tales, our tale also has a wonderful ending; they went on talking in the night club happily everafter.

PS:- If you are interested in learning about some of the characters in this tale, here we go: The present conveners are Santonu and his gang (which includes that sleepy head Rejin). And, here is the 325th speaker (who will be giving his talk tonight, 14th September, 2005), the unbeatable Kotts. Here are some of those venerable researchers who conceived and ran night club through the years: Nagendra, Vichu, Phani, NRS, Shankara, Tania, AS Gandhi,... Finally, go here for a partial list of speakers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Wife, what I says about Salaam|Namaste? Sorry? Ejactly!!

Today, our gang went for Salaam|Namaste . The numbers 'salaam-namaste' and 'what's goin' on' are hummable. But, a pregnant girl - probably well into her seventh or eight month - dancing like that? Honestly, what's goin' on? I think there should be a ban on such dance sequences. While we are at it, the kids also seemed to kick a bit too strongly - But there are two in there, and I have no personal experience about the amplitude of kicks - So, I will reserve my judgemnt on that.

Javed Jaffrey - what with the westerns type music in the background, and with his "When you are in Rome, do the Romes" english - was hilarious - or, as Kotts might put it - 'deadly; chaala bhaaga chesaad-le vaadu' (Tr. He has done very well).

Personally, I would never go to the extent of saying that it is a film that never weighs you down as Ziya Us Salam did yesterday. In fact, to put it in my tanglish, the kid in the book-shop, and the climax, etc - what, what things these peoples are doing - I was not even understanding-da. My verdict: It is wa...kay!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Walk, for thou shalt be given electricity!

Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
- Morpheus (in The Matrix - As quoted here)

The latest issue of Science has an article about generating electricity while walking with loads: I got the link from here.

The idea seems to be to use 'the vertical movement of a heavy load in the gravitational field during walking' to generate electricity (italics mine). How heavy is heavy enough? Anywhere between 20 and 40 kgs. The bottomline: 'electricity can be generated metabolically more cheaply than anticipated' - This reminded me of that classic movie The Matrix. Is it that I just am paranoid? Do you think it's air that you're breathing now?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

This is my own, my native land!

It took a long time for me to become a Sharukh Khan fan. Finally, Main Hoon Na and Swades did it. Swades, especially: as my friend Phani observed, the movie was full of symbolism - Mohan, Gita, and, not to forget, the bulb. In any case, it was in the context of Swades that I first heard about Dilip D'Souza (in one of the AID-India mailing list mails). Then CCS of IISc got him to talk about Two engineers and my country , which talk is one of the best I heard in CCS. In the July, 2005 issue of Seminar , Dilip has written about his experiences of visiting Tamilnadu after Tsunami . It is a nice essay which will touch your heart, make you puff with pride, and sing with Bharathi 'bharatha desam enru tholl kottuvom - Bharatha Desam: so shall we proclaim'. A nice, not-to-be missed piece.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

On thesis writing blues!

Here is a bit of advice on writing a dissertation that I got from here . For those of you who might know Rajinikanth , the advice seems to be to approach the thesis writing with his "Aandavan solraan; Arunachalam mudikkiraan" attitude (Tr. "Lord says; Arunachalam executes"). Which, finally brings to my mind those words of wisdom I once heard - "Who gives a s**t about your thesis, anyway?" In other words, be sincere, but never take yourself too seriously.

The Rime...Part VII


The Dean Good,

This Dean good lives in that room
Which faces down the laboratory.
How loudly her sweet voice she rears!
She loves to talk with students
That come from a far countree.

She works at morn, and noon, and eve-
She hath a cushioned chair:
Her table is a mess that wholly hides
The nice person behind the glass pair.

The group with Dean neared: I heard them talk,
`Why, this is strange, I say!
Where are those students so many,
In labcoats- waving their lives away?'

Approacheth the PhD thesis with wonder,

'Strange, by my experience!' the Dean said-
'And they answered not our cheer!
The desks look warped! and see
How thin they are and sere!
I never saw aught like to them,
Unless perchance it were

Brown skeletons of leaves that lag
My forest-brook along;
When the ivy-tod is heavy with snow,
And the owlet whoops to the wolf below,
That eats the she-wolf's young.'

`Oh Science! it hath a fiendish look-
(The Chairman made reply)
I am a-feared' - 'Move on, move on!'
Said the Dean cheerily.

The group came closer to the lab,
But I nor spake nor stirred;
The group came close near my lab,
And straight a sound was heard.

On the computer, the data is suddenly lost.

Inside the CPU it rumbled on,
Still louder and more short circuit:
It reached the hard disk, it split cord;
All the data on my PC was lost.

The ancient researcher is saved by the backup of the SysAd.

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which the circuit shorted vent,
Like an elephant that chased a tiger,
The sigh I gave the air rent:
But swift as dreams, myself I found
The backup the SysAd sent.

Upon the desk, where the PC lay,
The backup of thesis mine was set;
And all was still, save the sound of
The printer printing a new set.

I moved my hands- the chairman shrieked
And fell down in a fit;
The wise Dean raised her eyes,
And told me not just sit.

I took the papers: the SysAd,
Who now doth crazy go,
Laughed loud and long, and all the while
His eyes went to and fro.
'Ha! ha!' quoth he, 'full plain I see,
The Devil knows how to go.'

And now, all in my own laboratory,
I stood with thesis in my hand!
The Dean stepped forth from the side,
And scarcely could she stand.

The ancient Researcher earnestly entreateth the Dean to shrieve her; and the penance of life falls on her.

`O shrieve me, shrieve me, Prof mine!'
The Dean crossed her brow.
'Say quick,' quoth she, 'I bid thee say-
What manner of researcher art thou?'

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrought
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale ;
And then it left me free.

And ever and anon through out his future life an agony constraineth her to travel from land to land ;

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns :
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from lab to lab;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that the face I see,
I know that person must hear me:
To her or him, my tale I teach.

What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The banquet-guests are there ;
But in the middle hall the Prof
And the students proposing toasts are :
And hark the low sound of invitation,
Which biddeth me to the coffee-house!

O Banquet-guest! this soul hath
Alone on a wide wide sea :
So lonely 'twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

O sweeter than the conference-feast,
`Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the stage
In a convocation ceremony!-

To walk together to the stage,
And all together receive,
While each to his chief guest bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens applaud gay!

And to teach, by him own example, love and reverence to all papers that the Academia made and loveth.

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Banquet-Guest!
He worketh well, who loveth well
Both papers classic or otherwise.

He worketh best, who loveth best
All results- both great and small
For the dear Academia which loveth us,
It made and loveth all.

The Researcher, whose eye is bright,
Whose face the signs of age bore,
Is gone: and now the Banquet-Guest
Turned from the party hall door.

She went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser researcher,
She rose the morrow morn.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The 'extended' family!

kaakkai kuruvi engal jaadhi
- Bharathiyar
So sings the maha kavi, in one of his expansive moods: translated, it means, "The Crow, and the Sparrow: they are our kin". For us, after the Darwinian enlightenment, it is but natural to feel a kinship not just with crows and sparrows but also with apes. Go here for a photo exhibition called Face to Face consisting of passport style portraits of apes. The profile of one of them called Chim is truly moving:
Parents killed for bushmeat trade. Left at sanctuary by Cameroonian environmental journalist who had kept her like a child, dressed her, bathed her, etc. Bad mouth injury, riddled with worms. Had been made to dance in order to receive food. Still dances when not fed on demand.
Go here to know what Chimp means to some individuals and here for a brief history of Chimps: the same issue of Nature also published the Chimp draft genome sequence, if you are so inclined. And while we are at it, take a look at this book review about discovering the Inner Ape.