Archive for May, 2007

An excerpt from You don’t love me yet

May 31, 2007

Here is an excerpt from Jonathan Letham’s You don’t love me yet: A novel at the NPR page. Have fun!

Essay writing novelists

May 31, 2007

Here is a piece from Prospect called The democracy of Don Quixote (via Literary Saloon); and, here is the idea:

Novelists have always turned their hands to essays, and the essay-writing novelist remains a literary force to be reckoned with. The two forms share an inherent pluralism and scepticism that makes them natural allies of democracy.

I never thought about it–but, it seems to be true; some of my favourite novelists are also the best essay writers–Margaret Atwood and Somerset Maugham come to my mind immediately (And, since I also enjoyed the essays of Virginia Woolf and Amitav Ghosh, I guess their novels are good too–Yes; I am ashamed to admit not having read any of their fiction, yet).

The piece goes on to discuss Kundera’s The Curtain, Coetzee’s Inner workings, Sontag’s At the same time, Vargas Llosa’s Touchstones in the context.

Take a look!

Emerging nanotechnologies

May 31, 2007

Here is a page called Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (via LII). Here is an excerpt from their Mission page:

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies was established in April 2005 as a partnership between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project is dedicated to helping ensure that as nanotechnologies advance, possible risks are minimized, public and consumer engagement remains strong, and the potential benefits of these new technologies are realized.

Our goal is to inform the debate and to create an active public and policy dialogue. It is not an advocate either for, or against, particular nanotechnologies. We seek to ensure that as these technologies are developed, potential human health and environmental risks are anticipated, properly understood, and effectively managed.

All research results, reports, and the outcomes of our meetings and programs are made widely available through publications and over the web. We include a wide variety of stakeholders, both domestically and internationally, in our work.

We also are committed to engaging a new generation of young people interested in working at the interface of public policy and nanoscience and nanoengineering. We run an active program with university researchers, educators, and students to further that objective.

There is plenty of material to browse through and download; there seem to be a podcast too. Take a look!

HowTo: Write more comprehensible code

May 30, 2007

Here are six tips on writing maintainable code; via /.: The tips are

  1. Comment like a smart person;
  2. Use #define a lot; No, a LOT;
  3. Don’t use variable names that will mock you;
  4. Do error checking. You make errors. Yes, you;
  5. “Premature optimization is the root of all evil” — Donald E Knuth; and,
  6. Don’t be too clever by half.

Go to the article for detailed explanations of each tip with sample codes. Have fun!

Making peer-review process transparent

May 30, 2007

Ariberto Fassati, in a letter to Nature, suggests the following:

I therefore propose that journals’ records should be made publicly available after an adequate lapse of time, including the names of reviewers and the confidential comments exchanged between editors and reviewers. The Nobel Foundation makes all its records available after 50 years, as do many governmental and other institutions. This delay may be reduced for scientific journals to, perhaps, 15 or 20 years. This is also likely to have a positive impact on the peer-review process itself.

However, my take on this suggestion is a bit different; the peer review records should be published along with the paper–it will surely have a positive impact on the peer-review process. If the reviewers of any review insist on anonymity, in those cases alone, the reviews can be published withholding the names of reviewers, which can be made public, say after 10 years or so.

Stevenson under the palm trees

May 30, 2007

I finished reading Alberto Manguel’s Stevenson under the palm trees; it is a small book of about 100 pages (with illustrations using Stevenson’s own woodcuts). I also understand from a note at the end of the book that some names, expressions and descriptions are from Stevenson’s correspondence.

Some sections of the book gave me a deja vu since I am reading this book immediately after his reading diary; for example, here is a passage, where Manguel sneaks in the etymology of the word nostalgia:

The word ‘nostalgia’ (he remembered reading somewhere) had been invented in the seventeenth century by an Alsatian student in a medical thesis, to describe the malady that afflicted Swiss soldiers when far from their native mountains. For him it was the contrary: nostalgia was the pain of missing places that he had never seen before.

So is the title (and the quote on the dedication page from Goethe’s Elective affinitiesNo one wanders under palm trees unpunished).

Even after reading “With obvious echoes of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde” on the cover page, the book managed to surprise me somewhere around the 90th page–to that extent it is a successful thriller. However,  I could not allow myself to be completely carried away by the fantasy (which might have to do with the fact that I associate Stevenson’s last days with his extraordinary  (and, must-read) Child’s garden of verses).

Bottomline: A breezy read; those who had read Stevenson’s correspondence, biography and books very carefully might enjoy it more.

Before I end this post, here is the complete review of Stevenson…:

Stevenson under the Palm Trees is a subdued Stevensonesque tale with a decent literary twist to it. Manguel comes close to striking the right note in the writing, though the effort of integrating fact and bits of Stevenson’s own writing does show. The Doppelgänger-play is a weighty burden (Jekyll and Hyde inevitably imposing themselves on the tale), and Stevenson’s illness — making for lots of haze and lost time — perhaps too simple a device, but it’s a decent little historical literary (semi-)thriller.

A bit of neuroscience and philosphy

May 29, 2007

This post by Neurophilosophy called Remembering Henry M is fascinating (and is a must-read, too):

The single most famous case study in the history of neuropsychology is that of an anonymous memory-impaired man usually referred to only by the initials H. M. This patient has one of the most severe cases of amnesia ever observed; he has been followed for over 40 years by more than 100 researchers, and is the subject of dozens of research papers and book chapters. The early studies of H. M. provide a basis for modern neuropsychology, and the findings of those who have studied him are today a cornerstone in memory research.

It goes on to recount his medical history, and its implications to neuro-research. Here is the concluding paragraph of the post:

H. M. appears to be missing those parts of the brain that are crucial for the formation of both declarative and episodic memories, but at least some components of the neural circuitry encoding spatial memories are still present. H. M. is an invaluable source of information for memory researchers. He is now 80 years old, and suffers from osteoporosis, a side effect of phenytoin, the anti-convulsive drug he has been taking. Otherwise, he is in good health. But death is, of course, inevitable, and arrangements have already been made for post-mortem examination of his brain. Undoubtedly, an examination of H. M.’s brain will reveal a great deal more about the anatomy of memory.

While you are at Neurophilosophy, you might also want to take a look at this post, where MC links to a neurophilosophy book (called Subjective Brain) draft that is available online. Have fun!

A documentary of Tagore by Ray!

May 29, 2007

WoW! It had been ages since I have seen a documentary from Films Division!

Some reading recommendations

May 29, 2007
  1. Cory Doctorow recommends Bradbury’s Farewell Summer;
  2. Ten greatest novels ever written according to Somerset Maugham; via Maud, whose post is a must-read too. I borrowed Maugham’s book from Eloor long back and enjoyed it–I also remember that I was very happy with Maugham’s treatment of Jane Austen;
  3. Siddhartha Deb recommends Varieties of disturbance of Lydia Davis; via Amitava Kumar; and,
  4. Jenny Davidson has plenty of recommendations too–Andre Aciman’s Call me by your name, is one of them; in addition, she also links to this list of best novels you have never read.

Have fun!

Biography of Vikram Sarabhai

May 28, 2007

N Gopal Raj reviews Vikram Sarabhai: a life of Amrita Shah in the Hindu today. The review touches upon Sarabhai‘s views on nuclear weapons research (no), and the politics associated with the  separation of  ISRO from DAE (which, in retrospect, might be a good thing that happened to ISRO). However, from the review, it is not clear if the book also discusses the science of Sarabhai, as much as it discusses him; if it does, it would certainly be a book worth buying.

By the way,  the December 2001 issue of Resonance paid tributes to Sarabhai, with articles by U R Rao, Kasturirangan, and Mrinalini Sarabhai. The issue also carried a reflection by Sarabhai on the sources of man’s knowledge.

Have fun!