Archive for November, 2006

On a microbiology pioneer

November 30, 2006

Aetiology reports of the passing away of Esther Lederberg, a pioneer in microbiology.

On glee

November 30, 2006

While celebrating the joys of teaching undergraduates, Mark Liberman at Language Log tells about the research on glee, and its tendency to occur more often in mixed-sex groups.

On Freud

November 30, 2006

This is wrong. In real science, things are given names because they have value — hence the words “atom” and “molecule.” In Freudian psychoanalysis, things have value because they are given names — “Oedipus complex,” “castration anxiety” — and only because enough people have been convinced of their value. If scientists ignored atoms and molecules, these particles would still exist and exert vital effects. If Freudian concepts are ignored, their value, their very existence, is gone forever. Freudian analysis is not science; it is fashion, totally dependent on public acclaim.

Freud did not discover the unconscious. Other doctors had written on the subject before him.

From this book review; link via A&L Daily.

The chemistry of music

November 30, 2006

Nature informs that

Simple pest control techniques may have given rise to the greatest violins ever made.


“What we can see is the result of elaborate wood treatment,” says Nagyvary. “Woodworm and fungus were significant problems for the craftsman. They probably boiled the wood in a brine that contained various minerals to exterminate infestations.” Exactly what chemical recipes were used is unknown.

The end result? Wood that is harder, lighter and produces a smoother sound.

However, the theory is not without its critiques:

He says Nagyvary’s work looks sound, but it is hard to know if his theory is right without taking two pieces of the exact wood used by Stradivari, treating one and not the other, and comparing the sound of the instruments produced.

Take a look!

HowTo: prepare PPT presentations

November 29, 2006

I am a LaTeX person; my presentations are all (at least, till now) pdf files generated using Prosper; however, if you are used to making PowerPoint presentations, Clifford has some pointers (though he personally recommends Keynote).

Here are some of my pointers on making presentations; here is Abi with some of his own.

“Science is interesting; if you don’t agree”

November 29, 2006

Watch this video; link via Pharyngula. By the way, I am becoming a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson (the nerd who can kick your butt) these days (about whom I first heard from Abi). And, what is more Ramachandran and deGrasse Tyson! Have fun!

On a geared wonder

November 29, 2006

Update: Nature on Antikythera; a certainly not to be missed piece, too!

Take a look at this science news piece at Scientific American:

The device could predict eclipses as well as reproduce a subtle irregularity in the moon’s orbit, they reveal. Moreover, it may have been able to represent the motions of the planets, although the necessary gears seem to be long gone. They also confirm a prior hypothesis that the device relied on spiral grooves to count off certain lunar cycles. “We don’t know what it was for but we do believe we know what it did,” says astronomer Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University in England.

Apparently, the device itself was built around first century BC! To paraphrase Robert De Niro in Analyze this, Freaking Greeks! Don’t miss the article–the reconstruction is such a beauty!

Agility in software development

November 29, 2006

Cory Foy reviews Practises of an agile developer for /. :

I was excited when I received this book. Having gotten the chance to meet and talk with both Venkat and Andy, I knew they were passionate about getting developers to understand how to deliver value to the customers. Both are proponents of Agile development in one form or another (XP, Scrum, Crystal etc). But rather than try to sell you on one of the methodologies, they laid out seven goals: Beginning Agility, Feeding Agility, Delivering What Users Want, Agile Feedback, Agile Coding, Agile Debugging, and Agile Collaboration

You think there is a lil-too-much of agility in the book? The reviewer thinks so too though (as is clear from the following paragraph), that should not stop you from buying the book:

In summary, if you want to be a better developer, but think Agile is a misused buzz word, go to your local bookstore, put a small piece of masking tape over the word “Agile” in the title, and buy this book. You won’t regret it.

Have fun!

On Prof. Abdus Salam

November 29, 2006

In an article in the Hindu titled The scientist Pakistan chose to forget, Nirupama Subramanian writes about the Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam, and his struggles to be accepted as a muslim by the Pakistani religious and political establishment:

Dr. Salam died on November 21, 1996 in England at the age of 70. By then, he had lived abroad for many years retaining his Pakistani nationality until the very end. Before his death, he expressed a wish to be buried in Rabhwa in the Punjab province, where Pakistan’s Ahmediyya sect has its headquarters. His wish was fulfilled, but not without a bizarre twist. A magistrate, out to enforce the law, had the word “Muslim” erased from the inscription on the tombstone which said: “Abdus Salam The First Muslim Nobel Laureate.” What remained read thus: “Abdus Salam The First Nobel Laureate”(!) A comical outcome, if it were not so tragic. Later, the name of the town was changed to Chenab Nagar.

If I remember correct, there is an anecdote in The Second creation of Robert Crease and Charles Mann which tells about the kind of facilities that existed during Prof. Salam’s school days in his village: apparently, the school teacher told the children, “There is a type of energy called electrical energy; to watch it in action, you have to go to Karachi”, or, some words to that effect. To have been taught in such circumstances, and to have reached the stature that he finally achieved, Dr. Salam’s story is truly inspiring indeed!

Here is the official biography of Prof. Salam at the Nobel page:

Abdus Salam is known to be a devout Muslim, whose religion does not occupy a separate compartment of his life; it is inseparable from his work and family life. He once wrote: “The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.”

Here is a website that gives more information on Prof. Salam. Here is another with some more information. Finally, here is the Nobel lecture of Prof. Salam. Have fun!

PS:- Cross-posted at The Great Indian Mutiny.

On the motivating powers of happiness

November 29, 2006

Happiness may be one of the least motivating of all the factors that determine where we work or live. Many people choose to work at places that do not maximize their happiness in order to receive other rewards (economic, status or prestige, etc.). Moreover, subjective measures like job satisfaction do not seem to have much of a correlation with productivity measures. We don’t work hard because it will make us happier. The link between enjoyment and economic payoff just doesn’t seem to be very strong.

So why should we be concerned about happiness anyway? In my mind, happiness is something that most people would like to have in their lives but it’s often seen as an end state (e.g. I’ll be happy when I get this *#%*^ paper finished!) or a subjective state you hope to experience but over which you have little control.

From this post at orgtheory.