Archive for May 9th, 2007

I fourth it

May 9, 2007

Guardian apparently calls for a revival of Maugham; Bookslut seconds it; Maud Newton thirds; I join the party and fourth it.

Long back, when I was in my ninth standard, an English teacher passed me a list of must-read books (and, lent me one or two books from his own collection). I do not remember the list now; but I do remember that Maugham’s The moon and sixpence was on the list. And, finally when I managed to lay my hands on a copy, I enjoyed it a lot; and then I went through the first five of the seven stages of falling in love with Maugham.

I also remember that one paragraph from his diary was very perceptive about the workings of brain and cognition; and when I gave a copy of that paragraph to Prof. Mukunda, after this talk of his, he was impressed.

And, what better way to revive Maugham than to read his books? Here is Gutenberg with four of his novels; and check out his novel The Razor’s Edge also; though Wiki does not mention it, I have seen people argue that it is based on Paul Brunton‘s life.

Finally, if nothing, here is a very good reason for my liking Maugham so much:

Narayan was not yet a celebrity. In fact, when Somerset Maugham visited Mysore and asked to meet a novelist of the city who was making a name for himself, he was solemnly assured by Charles Todhunter, Secretary to the Maharaja, that he did not know of any. University teachers knew him, of course, but high-school boys and others did not pause in the street to point him out to one another as he went on his walks.

Happy reading!

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A painting, an essay and some music

May 9, 2007

That is Uma’s tribute to Tagore on his birthday; by a strange coincidence, I listed him along with other Bhakti poets in a post of mine today. Let me pay my tribute by quoting my favourite lines from Gitanjali:

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not. Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own. Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.

Transcribing DNA into music

May 9, 2007

Now, using a program called Gene2Music, you can transcribe any DNA sequence into music. The program, which was developed by molecular geneticists Rie Takahashi and Jeffrey Miller of the University of California, Los Angeles, uses an algorithm that converts each codon in the DNA sequence into a musical chord. Codons for hydrophilic amino acids (which are attracted to water) have a high key, codons for hydrophobic amino acids (which are repelled by water) have a lower key, and the duration of each chord is determined by the frequency of its corresponding codon within the transcribed DNA sequence.

Using Gene2Music, Takahashi and Miller have so far generated more than a dozen pieces of music, including transcripts of the huntingtin and cytochrome c genes. The aim of the project is to make the visualization of proteins easier for scientists, and to make molecular biology more comprehensible to non-scientists. Takahashi says it was inspired by a blind meteorology student and Cornell University, who devised a method by which the different colours on a weather map could be converted into musical tones.

From here; there also seem to be some tricks in getting a successful transcription:

Previous pieces of DNA music have tended to sound unmelodic, because they often contain jump distances of up to two octaves (16 notes) from one tone to another. Takahashi and Miller overcame this by assigning three notes to each codon. With a triad chord for each codon, the differences between successive chords in the music are reduced.

Take a look!

Understanding phase transitions!

May 9, 2007

… phase transitions are very important in science and technology, but only the simplest phase transitions can be understood.

From here 🙂

A must-read book of Zen poetry

May 9, 2007

Some of the finest poetry I have read is spiritual–be it Bharathi, Andal, or Tagore; and, most recently, Gowri Ramnaryan called that fine Marathi poet, Arun Kolatkar the bhakti poet of our times.

Thanks to Pradeep Sebastian, whose literary taste I respect a lot, and whose recommendations had never disappointed me, I have found another Bhakti poet–Ryokan. Following Sebastian’s recommendation last Sunday, I managed to get a first edition copy of One Robe, One Bowl from the Evanston library; as an added bonus, the library copy is inscribed by John Stevens himself — apparently, he grew up in Evanston.

Ryokan’s poetry is about rain, mist, flowers, and his playing with children. He is also very perceptive–he notices the broken heart of the beautiful girl, when no one else notices:

Early summer–floating down a clear running river in a wooden boat,
A lovely girl gently plays with a crimson lotus flower held in her white hands.
The day becomes more and more brilliant.
Young men play along the shore
And a horse runs by the willows.
Watching quietly, speaking to no one,
The beautiful girl does not show that her heart is broken.

He cries; and he cries alone; he cries not only for his youth, but also for the loneliness in life and death, and wasted lives:

Walking along a narrow path at the foot of a mountain
I come to an ancient cemetery filled with countless tombstones
And thousand-year-old oaks and pines
The day is ending with a lonely, plaintive wind
The names on the tombs are completely faded,
And even the relatives have forgotten who they were.
Choked with tears, unable to speak,
I take my staff and return home.

And, he teaches without teaching, for, for the observant, it is clear that, when

Passers-by point and laugh at me, asking,
“What is the reason for such foolishness?”

All he does is

No answer I give, only a deep bow;

For,

Even if I replied, they would not understand

But, if they stopped and contemplated on the apparent foolishness of his actions, they will realise that

There is nothing besides this.

So, here is 55 pages of bliss waiting to be picked up! Have fun!

Mechanical properties of biological structures

May 9, 2007

Yesterday, I heard Prof. Marc Andre Meyers on mechanical properties of biological structures. Prof. Meyers, who is the author of a mechanical behaviour book along with Chawla, is also a published author of a science fiction book called Mayan Mars–a signed copy of which I picked yesterday from him–I might add a review of it soon in these pages.

In his talk, Prof. Meyers talked about some cool biological structures–like Abalone shells, and Toucan beaks–and the hierarchical structures in these biological materials. He also passed around the shells and beaks, which were truly fascinating (though, they smelt odd–at least the Toucan beak did!).

Prof. Meyers also indicated how the community is moving from biomimetics of creating synthetic materials which mimic biological systems in their function, to biomimetics where we genetically engineer biological systems to produce materials with tailored properties.

I also found the information about the self-assembly of the bacteriophage T4 amazing!

If you are interested in these systems, Prof. Meyers’ home page has some ppt presentations as well as a video about the structure of Abalone shells (and links to other media).

Have fun!