Archive for February, 2007

A Feynman interview video

February 28, 2007

An interview with Richard Feynman called The pleasure of finding things out at Google video; link via B-squared.

Obscenity and classics

February 28, 2007

Is it a classic which happens to be obscene, or is it a classic because it is obscene? Apparently,

Elizabeth Ladenson argues in Dirt for Art’s Sake that each age, including ours, is censorious in its own way — and that our elevation of banned books to classics status is predictable rather than subversive.

“We are titillated by the idea of dangerous literature,” she says, “precisely because literature no longer poses any danger. It has become anodyne, if not entirely irrelevant, at least in terms of ambient threats to the status quo.”

There is a lengthy quote too from the introduction of the book at the post, and a link to a review at Washington Post. Take a look!

Sorting algorithms

February 28, 2007

Here is Good Math, Bad Math on sorting algorithms:

I have to say that it’s not my favorite topic – sorting is one of those old bugaboos that you can’t avoid, but which gets really dull after a while. But there is a kernel of interest to it – sorting can be used to demonstrate a lot of interesting ideas about computational complexity.

The post discusses insertion sort, heap sort, qucik sort, and merge sort.

Sorting algorithms are not often used in the kind of microstructural evolution simulations that I am used to; however, the closest I came to them is the one time when I used a linked list algorithm in the context of a molecular dynamics simulation. But, as the post mentions, for understanding the concept of computational complexity, may be it is a good idea to learn about the sorting algorithms.

And, this idea of the pedagogical use of sorting algorithms is of course endorsed by Knuth himself:

“Even if sorting were almost useless, there would be plenty of rewarding reasons for studying it anyway! The ingenious algorithms that have been discovered show that sorting is an extremely interesting topic to explore in its own right. Many fascinating unsolved problems remain in this area, as well as quite a few solved ones.” [Sorting and Searching, TAoCP, page 3]

And, here is a page with the  implementation of all the sorting algorithms from Knuth’s TAoCP, Volume 3. Here is the GSL sorting page.

Have fun!

Our bodies are space proof

February 28, 2007

…we have vast and unforeseen margins of safety: the visionary idea of humanity migrating from star to star on vessels with huge sails driven by stellar light might have limits, but not that of weightlessness: our poor body, so vulnerable to swords, to guns and to viruses, is space-proof.

Primo Levi musing on space travel, weightlessness, and Dante; via Seed’s Daily Zeitgeist.

Black hole information paradox

February 28, 2007

From Science Blog:

Professor Sam Braunstein, of the University of York’s Department of Computer Science, and Dr Arun Pati, of the Institute of Physics, Sainik School, Bhubaneswar, India, have established that quantum information cannot be ‘hidden’ in conventional ways, or in Braunstein’s words, “quantum information can run but it can’t hide.”

Here is the University of York press release; here is the paper in PRL. Here is Prof. Braunstein’s page; and, here is Dr. Arun Pati’s page.

The implications of the work?

Dr Pati said: “Our result shows that either quantum mechanics or Hawking’s analysis must break down, but it does not choose between these two possibilities.”

Professor Braunstein said: “The no-hiding theorem provides new insight into the different laws governing classical and quantum information. It shows that there’s got to be new physics out there.”

Have fun!

Collins vs Dawkins: who won the debate?

February 28, 2007

In eSkeptic, Gary Whittenberger analyses the God vs Science debate that appeared in Times last November, and concludes,

From the perspective of style or mode of expression, perhaps Collins won. At times, Dawkins seemed to come across as a bit testy and abrasive. He not only referred to fundamentalists as “clowns,” but several times he accused Collins of presenting “cop outs.” Collins, on the other hand, seemed more self-assured and gentlemanly in his interpersonal style. From the perspective of content or validity of argument, Dawkins won the debate hands-down. He made many points that Collins seemed helpless to rebut. Collins failed to show that he has found a satisfactory conciliation between religion and science, between faith and reason, or even that such a project is possible. Overall, the debate provided useful insights into the currently hot, but perennial issue of science versus religion.

While we are on the topic, you might also want to take a look at the first chapter of God, the failed hypothesis (pdf).

Both the links are via PTDR.

National Science Day

February 28, 2007

Today is the National Science Day; it is celebrated on February 28 to commemorate the discovery of Raman effect. So, here is my National Science Day post on Raman, as glimpsed through the pages of Current Science (mostly)!

Unfortunately, all the Current Science links are pdf files, and the older articles are scanned pdf files which load page by page; and, more unfortunately, the academy of sciences home page loads rather slowly. So, beware of slow downloads.

  1. Let us begin with some quotes from Raman about Universities and education:

    Our universities are so engrossed today with the task of conducting examinations and with innumerable meetings of Boards and Faculties, Courts and Councils, Senates and Syndicates that they have no time to perform the highest function of a University which is to stimulate Intellectual activity and advance knowledge. There is a danger today of its being forgotten that examinations and Faculty meetings are only a means to an end and not an end in themselves. There is a danger today of the production and advancement of knowledge receding in the background in the intellectual outlook of our Universities, of their being regarded as something beautiful and great, like the white snow in the top of the Himalayas, to be admired from a distance, but not to be grasped or touched (1927);

    The mainsprings of intellectual activity of every country are education and the spirit of enquiry, and its quality varies with the standard set by the thinkers and educators of the nation. Thus, in the last analysis, it is the leadership offered by the Universities that determines the level of intellectual activity in the country and therefore also the national efficiency (1929);

  2. A couple of pictures, the first newspaper announcement of the effect and a few quotes from Raman’s papers and his biography;
  3. An apprentice to a genius — Prof. Jayaraman reflects about the early days of Raman Research Institute;
  4. How true is the accusation that Raman did not give due credit for the discovery of the effect to Krishnan? Prof. Ramaseshan argues that that is baseless based on his interview with Prof. Krishnan, and extracts from Krishnan’s diary from that period;
  5. Is it Wood effect? Or Smekal effect? A bit of history about the priority disputes of the discovery of the effect;
  6. A couple of sketches and photographs of Raman;
  7. Raman’s efforts to get Max Born and other refugee scientists to India;
  8. Three early reports on Raman effect — Nature 1928; Nature 1928; Indian Journal of Physics 1928;
  9. Finally, Raman and women scientists.

Have a science-filled day and spread the joys of science!

On theory and practice of pluralism in Indian polity

February 28, 2007

Broadly, there have been two responses of political leaders to the prevalence of persistence of social and cultural diversity. The first has been to flatten it, to try and make citizens as alike as one another in the ways they think and speak and live. Or at least the important ways — such as religion or language or political ideology.  The second response has been to permit citizens their own individual ways of living, while crafting institutions that allow them to collaborate and coexist.

Fortunately, the men and women who built modern India chose the second path. They did not follow Israel or Pakistan in fusing faith with state granting special privileges to citizens of one religion. They did not follow Germany or the US in making it mandatory for all citizens to speak one language. And they did not follow Soviet Russia and communist China in constructing a single-party state.

At least in theory, the Indian nation state is the most plural on earth. It demands less conformity among its citizens than every other state we know. The practice of pluralism is another matter. At various points in Indian history, vast influence has been exercised by those who would seek to make one religion (Hinduism), one language (Hindi), one party (the Congress), or even one family (the Nehru-Gandhi) dominant over the other religions, languages, parties and families of India.

Ramachandra Guha in  Pluralism in the Indian University (pdf).

Even Onion can’t do this!

February 27, 2007

The secularist view of the Cactaceae is that they are roughly two million years old, and that they have evolved exclusively in the new world. This view fails to explain, however, how it is that the Opuntia genus is native to the island of Opus, near Greece. Cacti are known for their high content of alkaloids, and have often been used in the sacramental rights of the Native Americans. Because of this, the early Catholic missionaries in the west thought the plants to be the work of Satan, and this is perhaps a preferable view to that of materialistic evolution since it is difficult to imagine how something like mescaline could have evolved by natural selection. Besides that, the psychoactive content of many cacti have inspired the writings of such ungodly men as Aldous Huxley and Albert Hoffman. Several species of cactus are now endangered in the west due to “poaching” by collectors and invasive species. But, since Genesis suggests that man has been given dominion over all of the earth, the environmentalist concerns on this note are entirely inappropriate. It may also be that environmentalists, in addition to flauting the Word of God, are merely concerned about the effects that declining cactus populations will have on their supply of mescaline.

From Conservapedia, as quoted by B-squared.

A book of varnams

February 26, 2007

Sulochana Pattabhi Raman reviews Varna Sagaram in the Hindu. Everything about the book sounds wonderful to me (except the price at Rs. 500!):

The genre of Varna in the repertoire of Carnatic music is an absolutely vital ingredient that forms the fundamental base for the learning of Carnatic music. This book is an amazing collection of 415 Varnas in various languages such as Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Manipravalam. The Sahityas in Devanagari, Diacritical Roman and other regional scripts followed by SRGM notations in Roman scripts are simple, facilitating comfortable understanding by students of music belonging to even different disciplines.

The purpose of this book is to present and preserve the authentic versions of 415 Tana varnas in Adi, Kanta, Ata and other talas, Pada and Chowka varnas, Ragamalikas and Darus by various composers of the pre- and post-Trinity period that are a wonderful gift to posterity.

This excellent compilation covers a wide range of 20th century composers such as Tiger Varadacharyar, Gomathi Sankara Iyer, Lalgudi Jayaraman, T.M. Tyagarajan, Thanjavur Sankara Iyer, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, T.R. Subramanyam, R. Venugopal, T.K. Govinda Rao, the compiler, and also the creations of Chitra Veena Ravikiran and Charumathi Ramachandran. All the varnas are presented in a manner that gives a clear idea of the raga, Arohana, Avarohana, Mela, Sahitya, Thala and so on. The index at the end of the book in alphabetical order in both Devanagari and Diacritical Roman scripts enables to locate each composition with ease.

Take a look!