Archive for August 23rd, 2007

Eating bitter and eating Lathi

August 23, 2007

Mathew Polly in his book American Shaolin keeps talking about “eating bitter” (Chi ku, if I remember correct is the Mandarin Chinese for eating bitter). Now, via Uma, I learn that Gandhi gave the same advice in almost the same language:

“Go,’ said Gandhi. ‘Jao, lathi khao. (Go and taste the British lathis.)

Take a look!

HowTo: hold stuff in your head

August 23, 2007

Paul Graham on the  benefits of holding a program in your head, and how to go about doing it.

Scientific authorship and peer review

August 23, 2007

Authorship in scientific literature is not necessarily tied down to the process of writing–Yes, of course, writing is what produces the paper–but, everybody who contributed the expertise, ideas, and analysis, and everybody who did the experiment and performed the simulations are authors. Coturnix explains all these (and, much more) in a rather nice post.

Jonah Lehrer, at Frontal Cortex wonders if peer review works for the wrong reasons; though one of the criticisms he mentions is true (namely, that sometimes the reviewers, instead of critiquing the presented results, or what is wrong with them, say irrelevant things), I am not sure if peer review works only for wrong reasons. I would say that sometimes it works for wrong reasons too.

Some materials measurements

August 23, 2007

Though not mentioned explicitly, every materials researcher, at some point or other gets exasperated since there are no accurate measurements of many of the quantities which are fundamental for our understanding of materials phenomena; the two best examples that I can think of are the diffusion constants and elastic moduli. One of the professors I worked with used to say: “The chain is only as strong as its weakest link; in most of continuum mechanics, that weakest link is the constitutive relation”.

Take the case of elastic moduli for example; there are hardly any good measurements for alloys, or for different phases that show up in the phase diagram; what is worse, even in the few rare cases where we know these numbers at some temperature and composition, how they change with temperature, alloying additions, composition, and so on are hardly ever known; in the still rarer few cases where such variation with respect to some parameter is indeed known, there does not seem to be any rational explanation as to why the numbers change the way they do.

All this musing is because, in the past few days, I have heard lots of wonderful talks on plenty of real careful experimental and simulations studies on microstructural evolution, mechanical properties and so on. And to me, it looks like, given our present capabilities, we have  reached the point where the variations in some of these quantities, which were probably okay in the past are no longer okay. Further, incorrect values of these numbers have the potential of misleading the research and/or allow for handwaving where we could be more accurate but for the availability of some reliable numbers.

I can think of lots of reasons as to why there are not many researchers interested in making careful measurements of some of these fundamental quantities; but, I guess that has to wait for another blog post, some other time.