Archive for the ‘People’ Category
Professor Buchanan’s comments on my papers followed a somewhat predictable format. He would always start by saying something positive about the content, perhaps focusing on how well the paper was written, if lost for positive comments on content. He would then add his incisive comments, which sometimes forced me to set the paper aside. But on one paper I remember well that he didn’t start with his usual positive remarks. He wrote to this effect: “Dear Dick, we all write good papers and bad papers. With some papers we pursue publication. With others, we trash them. In the process of writing any number of papers, we acquire great wisdom in deciding which papers are which. You will acquire great wisdom in deciding what to do with this paper.” I didn’t need for him to say more, which he didn’t. I never tried to revise that paper.
Today, I am pleased to call James Buchanan my professor for pressing on me a remarkably simple but important point that escapes so many colleagues across the country: Being a professor is a privileged position. It demands scholarship, but it also demands that you give of yourself in ways that will never show up on your resume, or in your obituary.
From here; the entire thing is a must-read.
It was his lifelong ambition to bring to metallurgy, a ﬁeld rich in observations but still mostly phenomenological in method, the quantitative and predictive rigor of the recent developments in atomic-scale physics.
His work on dislocations was a ﬁrst success in this endeavor. The dislocation had been introduced as a theoretical concept in 1934 to explain the ease of plastic ﬂow in crystals: moving a line defect that localizes shear
deformation requires a much lower stress than uniform shearing of the crystal planes. The concept was only gradually accepted. Even though dislocations provided key insights into mechanical behavior and crystal growth, it was only in 1956 that electron microscopy produced the ﬁrst direct images of moving dislocations. In the late 1940s, Cottrell showed that dislocation theory could be used to make quantitative predictions.
A very nice piece!
“What do you know about pasteurisation,” an interviewer asked the young man who had applied for a Government of India fellowship for a Masters in Engineering abroad. “Something to do with milk?” was the uncertain reply. The year was 1946. In his biography From Anand: The story of Verghese Kurien, M.V. Kamath recounts the story of how the youngster was selected to do a Masters in dairy engineering by a government committee that was impervious to his pleas that he be allowed to specialise in metallurgy instead.
As it turned out, Michigan State University did not have dairy engineering, and Verghese Kurien was able to do metallurgy and Physics. But when he came back to India in 1948, it was to a small and unknown village in Gujarat called Anand that he was sent, to work out his two-year bond at the Government creamery on a salary of Rs.600 per month. Hating his job, he waited impatiently for his fetters to loosen. That did not happen. What it did was that V. Kurien, by the conjunction of politics, nationalism and professional challenge, decided to stay on. He would transform rural India.
Take a look!
Being a C programmer and GNU/LINUX fan, it would be wrong for me not to post this story about Dennis Ritchie that Mark Lieberman has shared:
The Unix culture favored short identifiers in general: programs like ed, cd, ls, cat, cc, sed, su; directory names like bin, lib, etc, dev; userids like dmr, bwk, mvm. Against this background, 14 characters is a long name; and as Brian Kernighan put it in Unix for Beginners (1979), “14 characters … is enough to be descriptive”. In order to have arbitrary-length file names, you’d need to add another layer of indirection to the file-system data structures; and as Richard Gabriel later wrote about the Bell Labs Unix ethos, “All reasonably expected cases should be covered. Completeness can be sacrificed in favor of any other quality. In fact, completeness must be sacrificed whenever implementation simplicity is jeopardized.”
However, Unix escaped from Bell Labs — that’s part of the story of how Dennis Ritchie helped change the world — and folks in Berkeley had looser (or at least different) moral standards. By 1982 or so, the Berkeley flavor of Unix had developed a file system with arbitrary (or at least much longer) possible file names. So one day, someone sent me a tar tape that had been made on a Berkeley system. And because they’d had the bad taste to take extensive advantage of those longer-than-14-character file names, my attempt to un-tar the tape was a disaster.
Specifically, as I recall, the overlong file names were simply silently truncated; aside from often concealing their identity and purpose, this caused later files with the same initial 14 letters to overwrite earlier ones.
So I went around the corner to discuss this problem with my colleagues in the Unix research department. Someone patiently explained to me why the 14-character limit was, on balance, a Good Thing. Someone else — certainly not Dennis — may even have suggested that tar’s silent truncation of file names was the Right Thing to Do. Some inconclusive theological controversy ensued.
After talking it over with Dennis, I concluded that re-writing the V7 file system would be too much trouble, as well a violation of local cultural norms, but that modifying tar would be both fairly easy and culturally acceptable. So I got the source code, and hacked tar so that when it encountered over-long file names, it mapped them into 14-character versions guaranteed to be unique, at least insofar as 14 alphanumeric characters permitted, and at the end it wrote out a file giving the table of correspondences between the original file names and the new ones.
This allowed me to get at whatever it was that was on that foreign tape, so I was satisfied. I sent the code around by email to some people that I thought might be able to use it, with a brief note explaining what it was good for, and expressing the hope that this solution would be acceptable “even to those stalwart puritans in the unix research department”. Dennis wrote back that it was indeed acceptable, signing his response “Stal”.
And for some time after that, he continued to use that nickname in private email to me.
If you are a die-hard fan of Knuth and have an hour to spare, here you go!
Through a colleague’s email alert, I came across this site today — which might interest some of you:
The debate surrounding the creation of the office of Lokpal at the centre has really not been a debate at all. It’s more like a battle of attrition between two entrenched, polarised positions whose proponents seem disinclined to engage in any meaningful way.
Towards creating a genuine debate, the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) has circulated a letter and documents. To this end, resources relating to the genesis, contents and issues relating to the various drafts of the Lokpal Bill are linked below.
Take a look!
Is here; he draws the attention to the influence of medieval poets on Bhimsen’s music and also makes the point that Bhimsen’s music can be meditative (ruminative is the word that Guha uses).
There is also a reference to one of my favourite musicians — Venkatesh Kumar — in Guha’s piece. And, it is time I located some Puttaraj Gavai.
I have heard Bhimsen sing soulful Devaranamas, while Mallikarjun’s renditions of Basaveshwara vachanas are moving; but, as far as I remember, I never heard Bhimsen sing vacahnas nor Mansur sing Devaranamas. So, I was surprised to see Ram Guha mentioning that Mansur liked to sing Purandaradasa’s songs.
How can I resist the title or a link to the nice piece? I see that but for Bangalore AIRs Geetharaadhana and Dasara padagalu, I also would have taken much longer to discover Panditji!