Archive for December, 2006

Top ten astronomy images of 2006

December 28, 2006

Here is a list of top ten astronomy images of 2006 from Bad Astronomy Blog; link via Seed’s Daily Zeitgeist; my favourite is the Tarantula Nebula!

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An unusual bird camp

December 28, 2006

Birdchick, as a tribute to Rysgaard, the first (founder?) president of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union who passed away, points to an interesting story from 1941 (pdf):

He noted thirteen Ring-necked Pheasants, nearly two dozen Bob-white, three Cardinals, two Robins, a number of Chickadees, several Downy Woodpeckers, and what he called “small woodpeckers” which may well have been White-breasted Nuthatches which were common in the vicinity.

This inventory (pdf) also contains a small biographical note on Dr. Rysgaard.

Atwood on writing

December 27, 2006

I am a sucker for books on writing. So, when I picked Margaret Atwood‘s Negotiating with the dead; a writer on writing recently, I was really excited. Negotiating with the dead is based on the Empson lectures that Atwood delivered in 2000. And, I am happy to say that Atwood does not disappoint.

Who but Atwood can capture the feeling that all of us experience(d) some time or other in such lucid prose?

It was like finding yourself in a great library as a young writer, and gazing around the thousands of books in it, and wondering if you have anything really of value to add.

And, Atwood’s interpretation of the poem Childe Roland to the Dark tower came of Robert Browning (go here for the poem)–namely, that Childe Roland the poet, is in search of the as yet unwritten poem Childe Roland–is pure genius!

I have not found a book in recent times–apart from Virginia Woolf‘s The Common Reader (available here (part 1) and here (part 2) ) that I read in a rather long train journey from Bangalore to Delhi nearly two years ago–that I can compare to this book. From what I remember of my first spotting Negotiating… in Strand, Bangalore, the price of the book could be slightly forbidding; but, let that not stop you. In case it does, check it out from your library; you wouldn’t regret it. In any case, be prepared to listen more about Negotiating… in these pages for the next few days!

Times when words seem futile

December 27, 2006

There are times when words seem futile, and to no one more so than a writer. At these moments it seems that nothing is of value other than to act and to intervene in the course of events: to think, to reflect, to write seem trivial and wasteful. But the life of the mind takes many forms, and some time after the day had passed I understood that in the manner of his choosing, the Director had mounted the most singular, the most powerful defence of it that I would ever witness.

Laila Lalami quotes Amitav Ghosh from his article on the aftermath of Tsunami in the New Yorker.

Prof. Stiglitz on Indian economy

December 27, 2006

Prof. Stiglitz answers some questions about Indian economy in an interview with Siddharth Varadarajan for the Hindu.

Reasons for the recent Indian economic growth:

India did a number of things in the right way, some over a long period, some in the short run, and the world changed in a way that was just right for India.

Can Indian growth be sustained without major contributions from manufactoring sector?

…but there is no a priori reason to stress manufacturing. We should ask what the comparative advantages are, and, from a global perspective, whether one can have sustained growth based on a service sector economy. The answer is clearly yes. Can you have heavy exports related to services? Again, the answer is yes. Creating jobs is an important issue, but it may be that, for instance, part of the strategy for creating jobs will involve expanding tourism, which is a very labour intensive service sector. The problem in manufacturing is that modern technology doesn’t use much labour. Most modern technologies in manufacturing are very capital intensive.

On the need for welfare schemes (or, trickle-down economics does not work):

I think they’re absolutely necessary for long-term sustainable growth. Latin America has shown what happens with high degrees of inequality. You get political and social instability. You have high crime rates and an environment that’s not good for investment. What’s also very clear is that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked anywhere. It hasn’t worked in the United States. Even though GDP is going up, most Americans are worse off today than they were six years ago.

In addition, there is a detailed discussion about privatisation, and how it does not always increase efficiency.

Finally, there is this interesting piece about foreign aid to US:

The system of seigniorage to the U.S. is inequitable. The foreign aid from developing countries to the U.S. is greater than the foreign aid the U.S. gives and the system has a downward bias in aggregate demand. This is a very peculiar and unstable system where the only thing keeping global demand strong is if the richest country in the world consumes beyond its means. As the U.S. gets more and indebted, confidence in the dollar erodes, and it no longer is a good store of value.

Rather than holding dollars as reserves, countries should hold an internationally created `bancor’ or global greenback — a `money’ that’s used in reserves and is convertible into ordinary currency. The idea is similar to special drawing rights but the SDR system is periodical and subject to veto by the U.S., which mistakenly thinks it gains from the system. I argue it doesn’t. It gains seigniorage, but it loses stability. My proposal is for a regular rather than periodic system and one that is automatic and rule based.

A rather lengthy interview, but worth your time.

Before I end, here is some trivia; I quote the first question from the interview:

Both Thomas Friedman and you start your books in Bangalore but he discovers the world is flat while you discover the path to globalisation is full of potholes.

PS:- Cross-posted at The Great Indian Mutiny

Knit, for thou shalt understand surfaces

December 27, 2006

This article in Science News has some really cool pictures of knit and crocheted surfaces; link via B-squared; the captions are really cool, too!

  • CHAOTIC CRAFTWORK. A crocheted Lorenz manifold brings the shape’s swirls into sharp relief.
  • HYPERBOLIC FABRIC. Many of the lines that could be inscribed on this crocheted hyperbolic plane curve away from each other, defying Euclid’s parallel postulate.
  • HYPER GROWTH. Because the hyperbolic plane grows exponentially, the violet outer boundary consumes as much yarn as the deep-purple center section does.

A real fun article to read!

On the unattainability of perfect unhappiness

December 27, 2006

Frontal Cortex quotes Primo Levi:

Sooner of later, everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable.

Pharyngula, palmistry and a Christmas regret

December 26, 2006

In a moving post, Pharyngula tells how,

I hurt my father with those few thoughtless words, I effortlessly stabbed him deep right to the heart of him, and I could see it. I think it was the cruelest thing I’ve ever done.

On Indian rice harvests

December 26, 2006

In the latest PNAS there are a couple of articles which argue that

Previous studies have found that atmospheric brown clouds partially offset the warming effects of greenhouse gases. This finding suggests a tradeoff between the impacts of reducing emissions of aerosols and greenhouse gases. Results from a statistical model of historical rice harvests in India, coupled with regional climate scenarios from a parallel climate model, indicate that joint reductions in brown clouds and greenhouse gases would in fact have complementary, positive impacts on harvests. The results also imply that adverse climate changes due to brown clouds and greenhouse gases contributed to the slowdown in harvest growth that occurred during the past two decades.

Take a look!

The universe as a giant videogame

December 26, 2006

Sean at Cosmic Variance devotes the 1000th blog-post to discuss video games as pedagogical tools. His theory:

Those of us who have become enchanted by science see the world as a giant puzzle, and our “job” is to unravel its secrets. The universe is a giant video game that a few of us get to play all the time. Yet somehow we manage to give everyone else the impression that it’s all about pulleys and inclined planes. If we can enlist the help of some imaginary characters — whether Spock or Spike — in illustrating the excitement of science, we’ll have achieved something very real indeed.

Being a Matrix and Hitchhikers guide fan, which give some interesting perspectives of their own as to what the universe is, my heart beats with him in resonance (pun intended)!