The big sleep by Raymond Chandler

July 12, 2021

A good read!

Right Ho, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse

June 28, 2021

Wodehouse is laugh out loud funny! From the book, I learnt that vacuum cleaners existed in the 1930s. In fact, wikipedia tells me that they existed for more than 50 years by then. I did not know that. More importantly, splitting the atom and its effects seem to have been common knowledge too. On the whole, an enjoyable read and strongly recommended!!

Sara Seager’s The smallest lights in the universe

June 14, 2021

A very nice read — though a bit sad at times. Stongly recommended.

I also remembered a long piece in Dinamani Sudar that I read (ages ago), which argued, by quoting the description of some (Russian) scientist that Bharathiyar’s maragatha pachchai comment about the setting sun is a true phenomenon and not some poetic hyperbole. From reading the book, I understand that green flash of the setting sun is a real thing!! One more proof how great the Mahakavi is, if you ever needed one!

Credit sharing in academia

June 8, 2021

Sara Seager describes the following incident in her book The smallest lights in the universe (a wonderful read, by the way — I am only into one-fifth of the book but can recommend it strongly!). Sara and her friend (called Gabriela) are working on an idea. A senior (older and more famous) astronomer keeps discussing with Gabriela. Gabriela is open and shares the details — thinking that the senior astronomer is curious and/or interested, impressed with their strategy. Later they learn that he was competing with them. This is not the first incident of this type described in the book itself. But, in this case, Gabriela is devastated, loses interest in the problem and sort of fades away.

This is not uncommon. I know of several cases in which young researchers felt/feel this way. In many cases, they think that they, at the least, deserve an acknowledgement which never comes their way. Sometimes, they also feel a bit cheated because the more senior researchers do not share all details and their interests (and, conflict of interests, if any) upfront. In many cases, lots of help is taken from somebody — who should be a co-author but never becomes one.

This is opposite of the other problem I have seen, namely, indiscriminate credit sharing — where everybody in a group gets their name on the publication irrespective of contribution.

Like everything else, credit sharing also needs a middle path. It requires discernment, attention, a sense of fairness and mindfullness — and, of course, tough negotiations at times and may be difficult conversations. The good academics that I know of are the ones who can do all this with grace and ease!

Helogoland of Carlo Rovelli

June 2, 2021

A short book; a quick and enjoyable read — except for one chapter — which needed a second reading to better understand. A book on quantum mechanics that, among other things, talks about Lenin and Nagarjuna. Strongly recommended!

Tho Mu Si Raghunathan ninaivodai of Sundara Ramaswamy

May 16, 2021

A fun read! How wonderful it would be if a book is published on the modern tamil literature and its creators, proponents and critics!

Ashokamitran’s Ottran

April 22, 2021

It has been quite a while since I read a book in Tamil. And, I have almost forgotten the pleasures of reading Ashokamitran. While reading the book, I was often reminded of the experience of reading his other classic, 18-aavadu atchak kodu and the discussions I had about the book with my friend Ela. Fortunately, if you can not read Tamil, N Kalyan Raman has translated the book into English (titled Mole)! Strongly recommended! Have fun!!

Paul Steinhardt’s The second kind of impossible 

April 15, 2021

During my PhD days, even though I was not directly involved, quasicrystals, rational approximants and forbidden symmetries are all topics which were discussed often and fervently. For those of you who are interested, here is a nice interview, for example:

Profssor S Ranganathan on his fascination for quasicrystals

I also got to meet some of the people involved and interact — with Professor Eric Lord and Professor Alan Mackay, for example, just to mention a couple of names!

So, it was with great interest that I read Steinhardt’s book on the discovery of natural quasicrystals. It is written like a thriller and there is plenty of materials science that is woven with the story. It costs about Rs. 800 and odd on and I strongly recommend the book — for those of you who are interested in materials science and those who want to know what materials science is all about! Have fun!!!

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun

March 27, 2021

With genetic editing and artificial intelligence, humans are becoming more and more like machines (designed in the lab) and machines are becoming more and more like humans. Is this Dystopia or simply Animism? For answers, see Ishiguro’s deeply thoughtful new Klara and the Sun.

This is a tweet from Pico Iyer.

But great artists, like Ishiguro, are distinguished by their more expansive vision. I know that’s something of an old-fashioned conceit, as is the word, “masterpiece”; nevertheless, I’ll go for broke and call Klara and the Sun a masterpiece that will make you think about life, mortality, the saving grace of love: in short, the all of it.

This is Maureen Corrigan in NPR.

Corrigan’s review starts with “This is unberable”. At many places, it is! Moving and sad and a remarkable read! Strongly recommended!!

Janet Browne’s Darwin’s Origin of Species: a biography

March 18, 2021

I like reading about books and about the process of writing and reading; and, given that books have their own stories to tell, it is not a surprise that I loved reading the biography of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Browne has written a short book — about 150 pages; but it is packed with information which is presented in a lucid and interesting manner. Given that she has written what is probably one of the most authoritative biographies of Darwin (which has now gone onto my to-read pile), she is able to situate the Darwin, the process of his writing the book, other associated players and the book itself in the Victorian era rather nicely; she has also given, towards the end, a sort of an update on the book and its current status as a classic. Strongly recommended! I am sure this book will also make you go looking for not only Origin of species but also several others including his Beagle diary and autobiography.