A R Venkatachalapathy’s “Thamizhk kalakkalanjiyaththin kadhai”

March 6, 2019

This short and very readable biography of the Tamil encyclopaedia is very good. A review of the book by Perumal Murugan is in Kalachuvadu here.

I enjoyed the book and have no hesitations in recommending it to anybody who can read Tamil. However, at some points, I could not help but feel that A R Venkatachalapathy was a bit unfair. One example is the way Kalki is credited. Apparently Kalki suggested the chief editor’s name; but ARV attributes the credit to choosing Thooran as editor to Avinashilingam Chettiyar. Apparently, Kalki also suggested the Treasurer who swindled. But, in this case, ARV is silent about Avinashilingam Chettiyar’s ability in identifying the right person for the right job. There are similar comments about Ma Po Si and  S A P Annamalai which I thought were less than charitable. These are minor quibbles though.

As Perumal Murugan has suggested in his review, a more detailed book or an expanded edition will be very welcome and the current version is certainly a good placeholder till that happens.


A couple of books!

February 25, 2019

Kingdom of the blind is the most recent from Louise Penny. Louise Penny does not disappoint — as usual. However, having read the other books in the series, some of the surprises (about Amelia for example) was not a surprise for me at all!

Gene machine by Venki Ramakrishnan is a great read — especially, for early stage researchers and PhD students. It is a book that I have been enthusiastically recommending to colleagues and friends, and, will probably go back to re-read at some point. Strongly recommended!

A few recent reads

February 13, 2019

The order of time by Carlos Rovelli is a must-read. I bought it since it made to the top 10 of the Physics World book list. I am glad I did. Thoroughly enjoyed — it is technical (physics), poetic and philosophical at the same time. Strongly recommended.

Achuvai Perinum by Arunn Narasimhan; this is the first fiction of his I read; enjoyed it.

An Ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism: Growing Up Muslim in India by Neyaz Farooquee is a good read too!

Origin of Idli

December 2, 2018

Here is Vir Sanghvi:

This led KT Achaya, the eminent food historian, to suggest that the idli may have had a foreign origin. Achaya normally managed to suggest that almost all modern Indian food had its roots in South Indian dishes, references to which could be found in ancient Tamil literature. So, when he abandoned South India’s claims to having invented the idli, the world of food was a little taken aback.

When I told this Achaya theory to one of my friends from “deep” south, he advised me not to go around telling all the nonsensical things that I read in books to others!

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: two books

September 7, 2018

Finished reading Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention and half way through Flow: the psychology of optimal experience.  Both are very interesting and recommended.

A not so thoughtful piece!

July 3, 2018

In today’s Mint, Siddharth Pai has a piece titled “Time to stem the ‘corruption’ in scientific studies”. I am disappointed with the piece.

In the first place, the following claim is wrong:

Journal editors, who oversee peer-reviewed journals, are supposed to send submissions to some of the author’s peers, usually to test whether the claims the author is making can be replicated by the reviewers independently in their own laboratories.

I do not see how any reviewer can replicate studies which take lots of time, effort and equipment. If this indeed is the case, I will write grant proposals to replicate the papers that I review.

I also find the following claim problematic at several levels:

Interestingly enough, one does not see this anomaly in the technology world and in some areas of the life sciences, like pharmaceutical research. The reason is simple. Businesses directly invest in research only if they see the potential of economic returns from it. Pharma companies spend billions on research and development and, after they have a successful drug, many more millions on promoting it—partly by sponsoring research papers that doctors will read. All this spend is transparent. In other words, the fact that profit is the motive is always clear, and the market ends up being the final arbiter of whether a new technology or a new drug is a money spinner.

If market dictates drug research completely, more money might be spent on problems of the rich (such as cosmetics and aging, for example). In addition, many technologies that we see today is an off-shoot of independent research which was carried out without explicit market concerns — even in industrial setting such as the Bell labs for example.

Finally, I see this towards the end of the piece:

We would be a lot better off if we stated the profit motive from the get-go and allowed the economics of the market to guide where research money is spent.

I realize this is not a black and white discussion. Nonetheless, taking a polarized position allows for debate. …

I do not see what useful discussion can stem from such a lazy piece which seems to take a polarized position just for the heck of it while twisting facts and offering incorrect analysis along the way!


Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

June 13, 2018

At least one review called it the finest novel of Smith so far. I would not go that far. I still think White teeth is the best novel. But, Swing time is a very good read indeed.

T M Krishna’s Reshaping Art

June 6, 2018

A very good read. It evokes strong responses and at times does make you uncomfortable. Whether you agree with Krishna or disagree, it is thought provoking throughout. The book is also a call for reforms — and, like all reforms, it both starts with the individual and pans out and starts with the society and reaches the “self”: Krishna has some interesting examples of the second kind based on the responses of participants and volunteers of the Urur Alcott Kuppam Vizha. Strongly recommended.

A couple of NETFLIX recommendations!

May 6, 2018

A colleague from the design school recommended Abstract to me. Very nice, interesting and inspiring! Recommended.

Heard about Come Sunday through the This American Life podcast and, it is a good movie too!

Elizabeth Strout’s My name is Lucy Barton

May 5, 2018

After the last collection of short stories of Elizabeth Strout I read, I wanted to read this novel. It is a very satisfying read — extremely well written and very enjoyable! Here is Guardian Review, for example. Strongly recommended!