Archive for July, 2007

A newspaperman par excellence

July 31, 2007

Philobiblon remembers Barry Clarke, a newspaperman she worked for (who passed away recently):

Another key element of his philosophy was “all hands on deck”. The press had only very limited capacity and for bigger papers, and advertising inserts, there were no machines. Pressmen, comps, journalists, and the editor, all mucked in to get the job done.

Leading the way was Barry. “Never ask anyone to do what you won’t do yourself,” he said…

Take a look!

The story of a discovery

July 31, 2007

In this summing-up post (of a series of 21 posts), Prof. Larry Moran at Sandwalk, traces the history of the discovery of the structure of DNA; via Exonintron.

Wow! What a vending machine!!

July 31, 2007

The New York Public Library has just installed an Espresso book-on-demand machine and they’ll print any of over 200,000 public domain titles from the Open Content Alliance free of charge for any patron.

From B-squared. Here is some more information:

The EBM, now available for sale to libraries and retailers, can potentially allow readers anywhere to obtain within minutes, almost any book title in any language, whether or not the book is in print. The EBM’s proprietary software transmits a digital file to the book machine, which automatically prints, binds, and trims the reader’s selection within minutes as a single, library-quality, paperback book, indistinguishable from the factory-made title.

Unlike existing print on demand technology, EBM’s are fully integrated, automatic machines that require minimal human intervention. They do not require a factory setting and are small enough to fit in a retail store or small library room. While traditional factory based print on demand machines usually cost over $1,000,000 per unit, the EBM is priced to be affordable for retailers and libraries.

The direct-to-consumer model of the EBM eliminates shipping and warehousing costs for books (thereby also eliminating returns and pulping of unsold books) and allows simultaneous global availability of millions of new and backlist titles in all categories and languages. These savings permit potentially lower prices to consumers and libraries, and greater royalties and profits to authors and publishers. Also, titles will never have to go out of print again.

That sounds really cool!

Why editing is like sex

July 31, 2007

Early in my editing career I was startled when, after we had finished an edit, a crusty, hard-bitten culture writer, a woman at least twice my age, told me, “That was great — better than sex!”

I make no such exalted claims, but there’s no doubt the editing process can be an intimate and gratifying experience for both parties. Although, to pursue our somewhat dubious metaphor, there are also times when writer and editor, instead of lying back and enjoying a soothing post-fact-check cigarette, stare emptily at the ceiling and vow never to share verb tenses with anyone again.

From this salon piece; Daniel Green at the Reading Experience, from whom I got the link, is not happy with some of the ideas described in the article, though.

Sainath wins Raman Magsaysay

July 31, 2007

Uma brings us the glad tidings!

P.Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu and the Mumbai Chief of Bureau is among the seven awardees of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2007.

In a citation, released on Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation recognised Mr. Sainath for his “passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to India’s consciousness, moving the nation to action.” He joined The Hindu in June 2004 and wrote extensively on the agrarian crisis.

“This award is as much The Hindu’s as it is mine,” Mr.Sainath said, after the announcement came from Manila. “The freedom and flexibility allowed me (by The Hindu) to plan as I wished or react very spontaneously to a new idea or development.”

That is from this news item; here is from the profile at the Award Foundation website:

Sainath presented his readers with a world that belied the giddy accounts of India’s economic miracle. In this India, the harsh life of the rural poor was, in fact, growing harsher.

Sainath discovered that the acute misery of India’s poorest districts was not caused by drought, as the government said. It was rooted in India’s enduring structural inequalities-in poverty, illiteracy, and caste discrimination-and exacerbated by recent economic reforms favoring foreign investment and privatization. Indeed, these sweeping changes combined with endemic corruption had led small farmers and landless laborers into evermore crippling debt-with devastating consequences.

Sainath provided the evidence.

It is great news indeed!

Three must-see videos

July 30, 2007

A parody of Bergman, a math rap, and a sociology rap — Fabio gives the link to them all!

How research is done?

July 30, 2007

Sean at Cosmic Variance is starting a three part series called Anatomy of a paper, on the mysterious process of doing research and publishing it. The first post in the series is called Inspiration and describes how a crazy idea is born (and refined, and modified, and metamorphosed):

Speaking of which — the answer to the inflation-with-a-preferred-direction question wasn’t obvious, so Lotty asked Mark about it. (Who knows where I was — off traveling, probably.) He didn’t know either, but it sounded like an interesting question. So (as one will do) he started scribbling down some models of inflation that might behave that way. Basically, trying to invent a way to allow the negative pressure associated with the inflaton field (the hypothetical field whose energy drives the hypothetical accelerated expansion) to be direction-dependent. We have some general pre-existing ideas about how inflation might conceivably work, and a good field theorist has a bag full of models that can be shaped into different forms depending on the problem under consideration, so it was a matter of asking how easy it would be to tweak those models to give them a preferred direction.

When I did eventually drop by my office, Mark mentioned the idea to me. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t have anything insightful to add off the top of my head. But that afternoon there was a physics colloquium, during which my mind wandered, and I started thinking of different ways the inflaton might get a direction-dependent pressure. After the talk, I went to Mark’s office to say “Your idea is crazy, but here’s an idea that might work.” The next day, Mark gathered Lotty and me into his office to explain why my idea was crazy, but he had a new idea that might work. That process continued for a while, back and forth between the three of us; suggesting models, finding reasons why they should be discarded, realizing that a previously-discarded model might be able to sidestep the previous objections, and so on.

A must-read post, and I cannot wait for the other two parts!

PS:- Here are some of my own thoughts on getting ideas of research, and a link to Highly Allochthonus‘ thoughts on the same (he also calls it inspiration, by the way!).

Update 1: Here is Part II: Calculations:

I should mention that, while working on the vector-field idea, I found myself in another bar — this one across the puddle, a neighborhood pub in London. Guinness this time, not a martini. And wouldn’t you know it, the bartender sees my equations spread out there and asks what it is I’m doing. (By the time I retire, every bartender in the Western hemisphere is going to have at least a passing acquaintance with the basics of contemporary cosmology.) This guy was really into it, and wanted to write down not just the title but also the ISBN number of the book I was reading. Since it was Dodelson’s cosmology text, which is a gripping read but full of equations, I scribbled a short list of more accessible books he could check out, about which he seemed truly excited. Now if only the London pubs would stay open past ten p.m., we’d have an excellent situation all around.

Now, that reminded me of a T-shirt slogan I saw in IISc once:

Don’t drink and derive.

Looks like Sean does not believe in that advice!

Update 2: All good things must come to an end; series of blog posts are no different. Here is the final section called Culmination:

They had, in fact, derived a few of the equations of which we were justifiably proud.

But not all of them! We had, in other words, been partially scooped, although not entirely so. This is a remarkably frequent occurrence — you think you’re working on some project for esoteric reasons that are of importance only to you, only to find that similar tendencies had been floating around in the air, either recently or some number of years prior. Occasionally the scoopage is so dramatic that you really have nothing new to add; in that case the only respectable thing is to suck it up and move on to another project. Very often, the overlap is noticeable but far from complete, and you still have something interesting to contribute; that turned out to be the case this time. So we soldiered on, giving credit in our paper to those who blazed trails before us, and highlighting those roads which we had traversed all by ourselves.

In this post, Sean also summarises the paper writing process in a single sentence:

At the end of the process — from meandering speculation, focusing in on an interesting question, gathering the necessary technical tools, performing the relevant calculation, comparing with the existing literature, and finally writing up the useful results — you have a paper.

A series worth printing out for meditations and contemplations!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

July 30, 2007

After my MSc, me and my father went on a trip to Bangalore, Pune, Bombay, Ahmedabad, and back to Bangalore. It was a two week long trip; I gave interviews in Indian Institute of Astronomy, Inter-University Consortium for Astronomy and Astrophysics, TIFR, Physical Research Laboratory, Raman Research Institute and Indian Institute of Science for a Ph D studentship. During the trip, among other things, I packed a suitcase full of books–one for each area–solid state physics, statistical physics, classical physics, quantum physics, and, so on. It was a very heavy suitcase (and I remember somebody trying to put it on the luggage rack in a Bombay suburban train in vain–he smiled and asked if it was gold that I was carrying in the suitcase), and, I had a difficult time in leaving some books behind–what if I needed Kittel and Kroemer while I packed only Callen? what if I needed Griffiths while I packed only Jackson? what if I needed Powell and Crasemann while I packed Gasciorowicz? and so on…. I remembered all that vividly when I read Hermione’s difficulties in deciding on the books that she wants to pack before their journey in search of the Horcruxes. It is small things of this sort which helps one identify oneself with some of the Harry Potter characters, which, in turn, makes reading the novels fun.

I read my first Harry Potter novel after the first three books have been published; but, I took an instant liking to them. I especially liked the description of school life, and the inner life of studenthood–like Snape giving a huge assignment when they are already overburdened with school work (and have a match to play/watch), which makes the students groan–I had faced similar situations, and I can understand how Ron might have felt under the circumstances. From this point of view, I do not understand some of the critics when they say that the public school life described in Harry Potter movies are not realistic–the latest of such criticism, to my surprise, I heard from Neil Gaiman.

In any case, I liked reading Deathly Hollows; someday, I will buy the complete, box-set Potter and read it from the beginning till the end, which, I think will give a better perspective on the books; and, then, I will write a more complete review. In the meanwhile, I have no hesitations in recommending Deathly Hallows. Happy reading!

Ingmar Bergman: RIP

July 30, 2007

Here is NY Times (which, for most of the times, describes Bergman in his own words); Shencottah and Uma collect some relevant links too; YouTube has plenty of short videos–some of them are interviews of his. The only movie of his that I have seen is The Virgin Spring (and liked it a lot too).

Update: Jayan at BrainDrain pays his tributes to Bergman, the writer.

Infectious Neil

July 29, 2007

Not in the bacterial sense, it seems! A nice clip.