Friday, December 16, 2005


I am planning to migrate to (and, thanks Abi for the tip). The main advantage I found with Wordpress is that they allow categorisation of posts. So, I do not need to maintain two different blogs, and it makes easier for people to navigate through the blog based on their topics of interest. In addition, wordpress also allows for private (and password-protected) posts. The new blog is called Entertaining Research--the Alicious adventures of a Malkanthapuragudi-an. It will take a while for the new blog to be customised; in the meanwhile, any comments or suggestions you may have are welcome! See you there!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Some more Nobel lectures!

Via Marginal Revolution, we learn that the video of the Economics Nobel lectures are now available (on a site called Mahalanobis;-).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A time to look back and read!

Via PTDR, I learnt about this special issue of Daedalus; the issue celebrates the 50th aniversary of Daedalus by reprinting some of the old articles; the fare includes Amartya Sen, Steven Weinberg, Susan Sontag, Umberto Eco, and Robert Frost. Have fun!

Holiday reading; some suggestions!

The approach of Christmas is also the approach of holidays; and what better way to spend the holidays than by reading! Here is a reading list for this holiday season. The short essay also tells the significance and importance of holiday reading:
But then comes holiday time, sacred days, time outside of ordinary time, when it's possible to find free hours for reading during a day usually given over to work. On a day such as this you can commit the absolutely marvelous act of reading for pleasure, the heightened version of this being the stimulating mix of entertainment and edification about the world and life that comes from reading great fiction and poetry. In this way, we truly participate in the holy separation of ordinary time and sacred time.

Meditation practice in a number of spiritual traditions separates special thought from ordinary, rational thought. Holiday reading distinguishes itself from reading for courses or reading for business reasons or reading to keep up in a book club. It is the gift you give yourself, the gift of time infused with adventure, the gift of supercharged language and deep insight into character, the gift of story that we need every day -- and if only everyone could seize the time! -- to instruct us in how to understand the seeming relentless forward propulsion of our lives.

Happy reading!

Monday, December 12, 2005

A truly amazing project!

I am talking about Project Gutenberg. Here is an interview with Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg; link via Literary Saloon. I did not know that Project Gutenberg was started in 1971. The interview tells the difference between Google books and the Gutenberg approach. And, two quotes from the interview to give a flavour:
In a typical week, there are at least a million downloads. We get a lot of Thackeray downloads, a lot of James Joyce, a lot of Dickens. “Pride and Prejudice” is always up there. Sherlock Holmes is always up there. … There are always some you don’t expect, like “Manners, Customs, and Dress During the Middle Ages, and During the Renaissance Period” by Paul Lacroix. …We also have reference material, which most people probably wouldn’t think of — like Roget’s Thesaurus. Plus, the Koran, along with the Bible.
Q: What are some of your favorite books or authors?
A: “Alice in Wonderland” was a family classic for us, and my dad was a Shakespeare professor. I do love Shakespeare.

Many meanings of the life of Bach!

Here is an essay profiling the life of Bach (from Gaurdian).

Chomsky - podcast of an interview!

Here is a link to a podcast of an interview with Noam Chomsky (from Boing Boing).

The Archbishop who was mistaken for a chauffeur!

His grace the Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered the last JRD Tata memorial lecture of National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) on "Is there hope for humanity?". After listing many of the depressing inhuman and depraved acts that occurred in the last century (and continue to occur even now at different parts of the world), the Archbishop was still hopeful of a better future for humanity. This hope, for him, hinged on the fact that we inhabit a moral universe, and intuitively recognise good and evil. The Archbishop was alternatingly humourous and serious, but never lost the human touch. He also indicated why efforts of eradication of poverty, disease and ignorance (by those of us who can) is not altruism but the best form of self-interest, for, we can only prosper together. I liked the fine sense of humour of the Archbishop; and, for me, the later part of the lecture was more spiritual than political. It also felt so good to hear such wonderful things about Mahatma Gandhi. On the whole, a nice evening and an elevating lecture!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ek ajnabee; a review!

We watched Ek Ajnabee yesterday. It is an Indianised version of Man on Fire; for example, look at this plot summary of Man on Fire and this one of Ek Ajnabee. So, it was with a feeling of deja vu that I watched it. What I liked about the movie are the song of Sanjay Dutt at the end, and a pretty decent job of acting by Ruchi Vaidya, Amitabh, Arjun Rampal, and Perizaad Zorabian. However, on the whole, the movie was a disappointment. The bottomline: watch it if you are too keen on watching a Hindi movie; even then, only if you have not watched Man on Fire.

USB weirdness!

Via /. we learn about this top ten wierdest USB drives. Have fun:-)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Teaching, research, and grants!

Here is the continuation of what they don't teach you in grad schools; this esaay covers teaching, research, and grants. The hints on teaching are very nice, while the hints on writing research proposals is something that is usually hard to come by.

A bunch of links and a rant!

Here is a nice summary of a talk that Simon Singh gave in the Faculty Hall yesterday. The title is a bit misleading. It is no longer 'supporting' Big Bang--apparently, most of the working cosmologists agree that Big Bang happened (and there is a fair amount of experimental evidence as well). In any case, here is my bit that was missing (for obvious reasons) in the Hindu summary. Singh told about this epithet "Spherical Ba****d"--apparently, like a sphere looks a sphere from whichever angle you look at it, a spherical ba****d looks ba****d from whatever angle you look at him:-) That reminded me of another nice quote that Clifford Truesdell attributed to Francis Bacon in his Idiot's fugitive essays: He is like a monkey; the higher up he goes, more of his ass he shows:-)

Here is report on the Nobel lecture of Harold Pinter in the op-ed pages; the text and video of the lecture are available (in the Nobel Prize page).

Ashuthosh Gowariker (whose Swades, for all its shortcomings, is a classic in Bollywood cinema, in my opinion) is profiled in the Friday Entertainment supplement. Apparently, he said this:
"We need to break the conception foreigners have of Indian cinema as all song and dance," he says, while also defending film songs as an integral part of our film culture and not something we need to be apologetic about. The shrinkage of length, he adds, will allow filmmakers to access a lot more creative material that couldn't previously be converted into films because of the sheer enormity of three hours.
And, I do not like the sound of it. We make movies not to change the conception of foreigners about Indian cinema; as was so memorably (and succinctly) put in Bollywood calling, Indians want all sentiments in one single movie, and Indian movies are made keeping those Indian sensibilities in mind. However, the second reason he gives makes sense; according to me, if anything, that should be the primary motivation for change. In the process if some foreigners are also able to appreciate the movies, that is a bonus and just that--nothing more, nothing less. Probably all this does not make business sense; may be the Indian producers want to vie with Hollywood in market share. However, that does not justify a person like Ashuthosh Gowariker cite foreign audience acceptance as a reason for motivation for change. Let us hope that Gowariker did not say what the profile says he said; let us also hope that he makes his next movie keeping 'us' (we, the people) in mind and not 'them' - I shudder to think what Swades would have been without "Yuhi chala chal", "Yeh Tara, Woh Tara", "Yeh jo desh hai tera", "Saavariya", "Pal Pal hai bhaari", and, "Dekho na".

Finally, Young World carries a report on the digitisation of the original manuscript of Alice called Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Since the article does not give the URL of the British Library page, here it is, and Thank you, Google--I love you so...o much!.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Environment vs a real primal need!

My most favourite grad-student Cecilia points (in her blog) to this story about the environmental impact of having children. Yeah, it is called Voluntary Human Extinction Movement; the essay ends as follows:
Even Knight, in his oddly cheery brand of pessimism, thinks that the drive to breed may be insurmountable.

"It's not too likely that the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is going to succeed," he told me. "I don't think any of us are so naive as to think that 6.5 billion people are going to say, 'Yeah, let's stop breeding, this is great.' But it's still the right thing to do."
Go take a look; while you are at it, also take a look at this other link that Cecilia points to (about a couple who are going to have their sixteenth kid--I thought raising a football team is the limit for anybody; looks like I was wrong).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Music, thy name is Carnatic!

Here is Hindu on one of the world's largest entertainment extravaganzas devoted to the classical arts, the Madras Music Season.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tale of a silk sari!

Here is Githa Hariharan about a gift she got from MS when she was nineteen. A nice piece: I liked the ending, especially:
I’d rather have kept the sari as a memento of my first meeting with Subbulakshmi. But the burglar changed that story. I too must change his. I have imagined into existence an ending for my burglar’s encounter with my cupboard. It is an open ending, the kind I like. I have firmly resisted the unhelpful suggestions of friends that by now, my silk saris must have been melted down for a few little lumps of silver. This is what I see though I have not seen my burglar: I am convinced there must be a woman in his life, and that he has given her Subbulakshmi’s green and gold sari. As a bonus, I would like to think that the sari, despite its years of hiding, despite the dishonest way it was made to exit from my life, will bring some grace — some kind of soul-changing music — into this woman’s life.
Link via Indian Writing.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A guide to heaven!

It starts with a disclaimer of what is missing in the list, of which, a paragraph reads
To keep from losing my mind, I've had to narrow my definition of a "gift book." While firmly believing that any well-written book is a gift, I've favored books that were inherently aesthetic and beautifully produced. Trying to discern what kind of books people might not buy for themselves, I chose those I thought more of an indulgence, rather than those needed to stay sane. (Consequently, you'll find no novels, memoirs or short stories. Yes, I will burn.)
Any well-written book is a gift. Hear! Hear! This is not just a listing of books, but more. It contains excerpts from most of the books listed, which makes it a good read, even if you are not planning to buy any of the books for yourself and/or as a gift. So, enjoy, and, while you are at it, you might even bookmark the essay--just in case you wanted to buy a gift sometime later or happen to come by some money to indulge!

Apaharan: a review!

So, we watched Apaharan yesterday. One (and, probably, the only) good thing about the movie is that there were so many cell phones buzzing on the screen, much of the Bangalore movie hall audience (which is used to receiving all their professional and personal calls in the theatre to the annoyance of guys like us), did not even realise that it was their cell phones that were ringing!

The movie was looking like an edited version of Aaj Tak stories interspersed with some scenes from a badly made TV serial. And, the item number (by Mrinalini Sharma?) was unwanted--instead, they could have had a dance number for Bips (who, by the way, was looking gorgeous). Both Nana and Ajay have done a good job; but, I guess it is the director who should be blamed for the final failure of the movie as a whole. Neither the characters nor the story line was developed in any detail leading to a very unsatisfactory final product.

The bottom line: Watch it only if you have nothing else to do--even then, if you really want to watch a Bihar based political (i.e., this-country-is-going-to-the-dogs) movie, watch Shool; what is more, it also has a much better (and aesthetically satisfying) item number by Shilpa Shetty!

To hear Yeats and Tennyson...

Recite their poems! For free! Is that just a fantasy of mine? No, here is Amardeep with the links to streaming poetry at the poetry archive! Happy listening hours!

Friday, December 02, 2005


That is what the economist called it (Link via PTDR)! Apparently,
In other words, Messrs Donohue and Levitt did not run the test they thought they had—an “inadvertent but serious computer programming error”, according to Messrs Foote and Goetz
And, what is more,
Of course, lots of people have always thought Mr Levitt was in the wrong. Even if abortion cuts crime, it is still immoral, they fulminate. But this is largely beside the point: Mr Levitt's research does not take a position on abortion's social virtues, but aims merely to uncover its societal effects. Besides, for someone of Mr Levitt's iconoclasm and ingenuity, technical ineptitude is a much graver charge than moral turpitude. To be politically incorrect is one thing; to be simply incorrect quite another.
That, by the way, reminded me of this fortune cookie: At the source of every error which is blamed on the computer you will find at least two human errors, including the error of blaming it on the computer. It also reminded me of these earlier posts of mine about programming, reproducibility, and bugs.

If I am not careful...

Someday, they are going to sue me for calling myself Guru:-)

A controversy that wouldn't go away!

Here is an op-ed in today's Hindu about the Physics Nobel 2005 controversy. Apparently,
In a lecture in September 1973 at the IISc, titled "In Search of Perspective: An Attempt at Self-Assessment," Prof. Sudarshan, speaking about this work, had said: "And here too I see evidence that international science is not a monarchy nor a democracy; rather, it is reminiscent of a more primitive social organisation of the era of robber barons."
Now, that sounds interesting! However, the source of this piece of information is missing in the article (which would have made it more interesting, shall we say!).

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Meaning of PhD and post-PhD survival!

Here is a nice post about what they don't teach you in graduate school; link via PTDR. The three part article discusses the meaning of PhD, finishing your dissertation, and hunting an academic job; extremely well-written essay and a must-read!

The Red Letters of Ved Mehta!

I read The Red Letters: My Father's enchanted period of Ved Mehta. I just loved the four pages towards the end of the book where he describes one of his conversations with his mother. It is extremely well written; it brings the flavour of the conversation very vividly on to the pages of the book. Here are a few samples:
Besides, did the Long-Lived One ever tell Babuji that he wanted a bachelor of arts who could toon-toon in English and chirp like a songbrid? If he had, Babujii would have told Doctor Sahib to get a mem and a radio.
Young people nowadays might go in for interviews and whiling away time with each other in coffehouses before they tie the knot, but, in those days, a boy was lucky if he got a chance to glimpse a girl's face before he married her. The Long-Lived One caught sight of my face and he fell for me. You tell me, youngster, was that my fault? It was Doctor Sahib's own wish and desire to have me. I tell you, he couldn't wait to jump onto the wedding mare and carry me off. The Long-Lived One says that as soon as he talked to me on our wedding night his hopes were dashed. Maybe so--who am I to contradict the Long-Lived One?-- but in those early years no one listening to him singing to me and whispering endearments would ever have thought that. In fact, Doctor Sahib used to go around his club and office saying that he had a queen for a wife. Doctor Sahib might have forgotten, but I cannot forget.
You children grew up saying you are Mehtas, but you are just as much Mehras--of course you are sons and daughters of your daddy, but you're just as much grandsons and granddaughters of Babuji.

One of my friends to whom I recommended the section from which the above passages are taken told me it reminded him of Sheila Dhar; and, in our circle, that is the ultimate praise for anybody's writing style-- a nine-on-ten for style, you may say. However, passages of this quality are not many in the book. Also, the anecdotal telling of the story, chronological jumps, and the report-like passages gave a feeling of unevenness and incompleteness to me. Having said that, I would still recommend the book for the fashion in which it deals with the rather sensitive subject matter (of his father's love affair with a married woman in the 1930s).

Nature of science and its practice!

Dr. D Balasubramanian writes in today's Hindu about the changing identity of the scientist. Naturally, the topic has led him to observe that in the Indian scenario
The few prominent heroes had given way to an army of anonymous workers. In India, this came to be felt in an unforeseen, and unfortunate, way. The government invested money in large projects, missions and new research labs that a single department or researcher could not acquire. Resources available to individual scientists in universities were far less and university research could not keep pace. They produced quality students but these had to often learn sophisticated research methods and approaches elsewhere, outside their university. It is only now that this asymmetry is being addressed in some manner.
And, he ends the essay with this reiteration of the need of individual scientist:
All of these are possible only through ideas — ideas that need to be thought of, that need to be tested, found working and then applied to achieve the ends. And ideas come from individuals; this cannot change. Therefore the individual scientist cannot be replaced. It is him that we need to make more and more of.

And a sure way to do so is through schools, colleges and universities. It is these that we need to sow, nourish and multiply.
Irrespective of whether universities and colleges support individual scientists or not (since, for example, nothing stops university professors from coming together and carrying out research on some topic in a co-ordinated manner), the call to nourish and multiply these institutions of schools, colleges and universities is very sane and sensible.