Archive for January, 2007

Is homeotrophy the answer to creativity?

January 31, 2007

Prof. Veni Madhavan  muses in a poem in Current science (pdf).

Robustly, insanely physical life

January 31, 2007

Bill Bryson muses about his childhood in 1950s Des Moines, Iowa. Here is an excerpt from his latest book The life and times of thunderbolt kid. Here is a link to another excerpt.  Here is a sample from the essay:

I couldn’t see much, of course, with my head pressed to the table, but I did catch reflected glimpses in the toaster and my father seemed to be into my cranial cavity up to his elbows. At the same time he was speaking to Dr. Alzheimer in words that failed to soothe. “Jesus Christ, Doc,” he was saying. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of blood. We’re swimming in it.”

On the other end I could hear Dr. Alzheimer’s dementedly laid-back voice. “Well, I could come over, I suppose,” he was saying. “It’s just that I’m watching an awfully good golf tournament. Ben Hogan is having a most marvelous round. Isn’t it wonderful to see him doing well at his time of life? Now then, have you managed to stop the bleeding?”

“Well, I’m sure trying.”

“Good, good. That’s excellent—that’s excellent. Because he’s probably lost quite a lot of blood already. Tell me, is the little fellow still breathing?”

“I think so,” my father replied.

I nodded helpfully.

“Yes, he’s still breathing, Doc.”

“That’s good, that’s very good. OK, I tell you what. Give him two aspirin and nudge him once in a while to make sure he doesn’t pass out—on no account let him lose consciousness, because you might lose the poor little fellow—and I’ll be over after the tournament. Oh, look at that—he’s gone straight off the green into the rough.” There was the sound of Dr. Alzheimer’s phone settling back into the cradle and the buzz of disconnection.

After the essay and the excerpts, I am thinking if I should get the book issued from the library — might be fun.

On fracture mechanics

January 31, 2007

Here are two lecture notes on fracture mechanics at iMechanica: Prof. Zehnder; Prof. Hutichinson. Have fun!

On Homo Religioso 

January 31, 2007

What is the origin of the religious impulses of human beings? Here is an interview at Salon with the anthropologist Barbara J King, who believes that

religion is rooted in our social and emotional connections with each other.

And, this belief is apparently based on Prof. King’s work with gorillas and chimpanzees:

… King says, we can see the foundations of religious behavior in chimpanzees and gorillas; watching our distant cousins can do much to explain the foundations of our own beliefs.

She also clarifies what she means by religion:

I’m not talking about a set of beliefs. When I think about religion, what comes to mind are personal relationships with the supernatural, with God or with spirits, and compassionate action. Not necessarily books or texts that you read, but some sort of action in the world.

The stories about the management of deaths in ape families reminded me of a story from one of the essays by the Indian naturalist Krishnan, in which he describes how a herd of elephants paid homage to the bones of the deceased members of their herd everytime they passed them by.

Finally, whether you agree with Prof. King’s views or not, the interview is worth reading for the information on pre-historic art, religious ceremonies of Neanderthals, anecdotes about chimps, and such other very interesting stuff. Have fun!

Beers, microscopy and multiplication

January 30, 2007

I know of quite a few physical metallurgists, whose love for microscopy equals that of theirs for beer; so, here is a combination that they would love — microscopy on beers — I am sorry to say that Kingfisher is missing in the gallery though!

Grrlscientist shows a truly amazing multiplication method for multiplying two large numbers; a certainly not-to-be-missed video — it is so… cool yaar!

Hat tip: Seed’s daily zeitgeist 

On benzene and a chemistry pioneer

January 30, 2007

Philobiblon draws our attention to a chemistry pioneer who figured out the crystallography (planar hexagonal structure) of benzene — Kathleen Lonsdale. From Wiki, I learn that the allotrope of carbon Lonsdaleite is named after her.

Till now, I only knew about the Kekule story of benzene ring structure discovery. The information about Kathleen Lonsdale is news to me.

While we are at it, here is a video podcast on Benzene since Faraday; it is part of a video podcast series from Imperial College (which includes, among other things, Kroto on nanotubes):

A selection of lecture presentations by well known chemists, talking about their research. The selection was edited by Henry Rzepa, and the video was produced by the Imperial College Television Studio. The podcasts are presented as either a videocast or an enhanced audiocast with lecture slides.

Have fun!

Prof. Stiglitz on globalisation

January 30, 2007

The lecture that Prof. Stiglitz delivered in Chennai on 4 January, 2007 as part of the Hindu public lecture series titled Making Globalization Work is available in mp3 format. While you are at it, you might want to take a look at the review of his Making globalization work by C T Kurien. Have fun!

“The season of thefts on our serene campus”

January 29, 2007

According to Maud Newton, it is her best short story yet: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Cell one in New Yorker. This is probably the second Adichie story I have read; so, I cannot say if it is her best. But, it is one of the best short stories that I have read.

Just to whet your appetite, here are a few sentences from the story:

This was the season of thefts on our serene campus.

By then, it was the season of cults on the Nsukka campus, when signs all over the university read in bold letters, “SAY NO TO CULTS.

It was inane. It was so abnormal that it quickly became normal.

Read the story — it is an uplifting experience!

Top twelve programming books

January 29, 2007

Vishal tells us

what books a programmer or a Software developer must have in his/her bookshelf.

Take a look!

HowTo: Use black(white)-boards

January 27, 2007

There are some nice tips at Mother Tongue Annoyances on how to use whiteboards effectively. The fourth tip about ‘parking lots’ is new to me, and it sure sounds like a very useful practice:

The idea behind the ‘parking lot’ is that this is a corner of your whiteboard that you partition off with your trusty dry-erase marker for any student/attendee question(s) that you are unable to answer over the course of the session. You then commit to the questioner (and, by extension, to the entire gathering) to research the answer either during a break or after the presentation and report back to the appropriate party/parties.

The genius behind the ‘parking lot’ is plain: No unanswered audience questions are left ‘hanging in the breeze’; the competency of the speaker remains solid; if the question is answered in time, the knowledge level of both the speaker and the attendees is increased. And so forth.

Take a look!