Archive for November, 2007

Karl Marx: as a journalist (and blogger)

November 30, 2007

Mark Thoma quotes from this NPR excerpt of a biography of Marx’s Das Kapital:

Marx’s journalism is characterized by a reckless belligerence which explains why he spent most of his adult life in exile and political isolation. His very first article for the Rheinische Zeitung was a lacerating assault on both the intolerance of Prussian absolutism and the feeble-mindedness of its liberal opponents. Not content with making enemies of the government and opposition simultaneously, he turned against his own comrades as well, denouncing the Young Hegelians for ‘rowdiness and blackguardism’. Only two months after Marx’s assumption of editorial responsibility, the provincial governor asked the censorship ministers in Berlin to prosecute him for ‘impudent and disrespectful criticism’.

No less a figure than Tsar Nicholas of Russia also begged the Prussian king to suppress the Rheinische Zeitung, having taken umbrage at an anti-Russian diatribe. The paper was duly closed in March 1843: at the age of twenty-four, Marx was already wielding a pen that could terrify and infuriate the crowned heads of Europe.

Thoma goes on to give a few of links to indicate how effective a blogger he was:

Marx was a pretty effective blogger. Here is a page from an archive of his posts, with more here.

Update: Andrew Leonard has more.

Take a look!

Most amazing thing about America’s press corps

November 30, 2007

Brad DeLong tells you what it is:

Perhaps the most amazing thing about America’s press corps is how easily they are pwn3d: how shoddy their research is, how narrow their knowledge is, how mentally inept they are at what is supposed to be their job: understanding and evaluating sources. It must be a trained incapacity: nobody could be this stupid without long practice.

Take a look!

Partisanship at a venerable institution called The Hindu

November 30, 2007
  1. Instance1: Churmuri wrote about an apology tendered by Ram to an automative company;
  2. Instance 2: A couple of pieces by Ram on Tibet about which Shencottah wrote; and,
  3. Instance 3: An editorial criticising the Gopal Gandhi, Governor of West Bengal about which Rahul wrote; and, Arun Thiruvengadam writes more recently:

    I have long been a faithful reader of the Hindu. Of late, my loyalty has wavered because I believe it no longer has regular columnists who provide interesting and insightful commentary on the important issues of the day. (There are exceptions, as is demonstrated by the fact that contributors to this blog continue to provide links to and discuss some such pieces, but those who remain are far fewer and less regular than in the past). Moreover, most of the Hindu’s op-eds seem to focus more on international affairs (especially domestic politics in the UK), while ignoring commentary on pressing domestic issues within the country. The Hindu’s partisan stance on Nandigram may well turn out to be the last straw for those whose commitment to this venerable institution is already floundering.

It is a pity. And, the recent bit of history I learnt makes me wonder how, if ever, Hindu got its non-partisan credentials in the first place — during the freedom struggle, probably?

Update: At least somebody, at last, has recognised that  even reporting is slipping up when it comes to fairness, balance and accuracy at The Hindu:

According to the Editor-in-Chief, “We have done a perfectly balanced news and pictorial coverage of Nandigram and taken a clear editorial position, avoiding the traps of anti-left campaign journalism that various other newspapers and television channels have got into. I am satisfied that the news coverage has been accurate and balanced. Working out the editorial stand is our journalistic privilege. A serious content analysis of our coverage of Nandigram will vindicate my claim of factual and sober coverage. Of course journalism works with constraints when it comes to access to what happens in embattled or complex circumstances. But you always have a chance to catch up or fill in what happened.

“It is absolutely inaccurate to say we have not sent any reporter to Nandigram. Antara Das’ recent report, for example, speaks for itself.”

* * *

There was balance in the coverage to the extent that protesting voices against what was “happening” in Nandigram got adequate representation. But what was really happening? The reader was left to guess. The Home Secretary said it was a “war zone”; Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya described what had happened in Nandigram as legal and justified and added, “we have paid back in their own coin.” These widely reported (but not in The Hindu) remarks indicated something serious had happened and it needed to be justified. Obviously it was not Maoists and Trinamool alone, who were responsible for the situation and the published reports did not make things clear.

The reporting in The Hindu was selective. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comment on the situation (while on his way to Kuala Lumpur) did not find a place and this had to be inferred from the Chief Minister’s reaction to it. Similarly, the Chief Minister’s “paid back” remark found mention only when there were reactions to it.

The unprecedented public protest in Kolkata was well covered, but one was left wondering what was the “situation” in Nandigram against which the intellectuals and artists were protesting. As a newsman, my first priority would have been spot coverage. That media persons were denied access to the “war zone” was unknown to The Hindu readers. The first Nandigram-datelined report, from Antara Das, appeared much after things had quietened down in the area. Nandigram did not get the detailed analysis that an explosion in tiny faraway Maldives got at the same time.

That is the Reader’s Editor: via Abi.

Experiencing altered states of consciousness

November 29, 2007

Vaughan at Mind Hacks strongly recommends Jeff Warren’s The Head Trip: Adventures on the wheel of consciousness:

The author, Jeff Warren, wants to experience various altered states of consciousness that are described in the scientific literature, like the hypnagogic state – the hallucinatory period when dropping off, or lucid dreaming, when you’re aware that you’re dreaming, or hypnosis.

So he travels the world meeting researchers, taking part in experiments, trying things out on himself, and explaining the science along the way.

And this he does very well. He manages to capture some of the key debates in the literature, explain some tricky concepts, as well as introducing us to often curious and compelling characters who research these phenomena.

He skillfully compares the myths, claims and speculation with what is known from scientific studies, and what he managed to experience himself.

Sounds cool!

Modes of driving

November 29, 2007

Today I learnt a couple interesting concepts called “stopping motor volume” and “sensory volume”:

The Northwestern researchers are the first to clearly quantify the stopping motor volume (the amount of space it takes for an animal — including one in a vehicle — to come to a complete stop) and sensory volume (the amount of space an animal senses around it) for any animal. They then explored the relationships between the two volumes, defining three modes in which an animal could find itself in relation to another object — collision (will collide every time), reactive (won’t collide if on your toes) or deliberative (have lots of space to think about it).

Why do these concepts matter?

“For example, a person driving during daylight typically is in deliberative mode — able to see objects far away with plenty of space to deliberate and form a response. That’s the ideal. But when the sun goes down, and the driver is relying on streetlamps and headlights to see, he or she is typically in reactive mode at best or collision mode at worst.”

And, of course it all started with a fish:

MacIver was inspired to think about these original concepts by the unusual animal he prefers to study: the black ghost knifefish, found in the murky waters of the Amazon River. The fish does not use a passive sensing system such as sight or hearing to hunt. Instead, the knifefish has an active sensing system: it generates a weak electric field all around its body, and sensors, also all around its body, register any perturbations. By fluttering a ribbon-like fin along the entire length of its body, the knifefish can swim both forward and backward to catch its prey, the water flea.

After developing their mathematical definitions of the volumes, the researchers applied them to the knifefish, using the plentiful data available on the animal. They coupled video analysis of prey capture behavior with computational modeling of the fish’s electrosensory capabilities and let the simulations run for several weeks in a computer cluster operated by the Chicago Biomedical Consortium.

MacIver and his team are the first to quantify and compare in any animal the three-dimensional volumes for movement and sensation. They showed that the knifefish is truly omnidirectional in moving and sensing and discovered that the two volumes (stopping motor and sensory) are roughly equal, with sensory volume just a little greater than stopping motor volume. This places the knifefish in the reactive mode, critical if the fish wants to eat, and not collide with, its prey.

The press release (linked to and quoted above) is based on a paper published in PLoS Biology, titled Omnidirectional Sensory and Motor Volumes in Electric Fish. Here is the abstract of the paper:

Active sensing organisms, such as bats, dolphins, and weakly electric fish, generate a 3-D space for active sensation by emitting self-generated energy into the environment. For a weakly electric fish, we demonstrate that the electrosensory space for prey detection has an unusual, omnidirectional shape. We compare this sensory volume with the animal’s motor volume—the volume swept out by the body over selected time intervals and over the time it takes to come to a stop from typical hunting velocities. We find that the motor volume has a similar omnidirectional shape, which can be attributed to the fish’s backward-swimming capabilities and body dynamics. We assessed the electrosensory space for prey detection by analyzing simulated changes in spiking activity of primary electrosensory afferents during empirically measured and synthetic prey capture trials. The animal’s motor volume was reconstructed from video recordings of body motion during prey capture behavior. Our results suggest that in weakly electric fish, there is a close connection between the shape of the sensory and motor volumes. We consider three general spatial relationships between 3-D sensory and motor volumes in active and passive-sensing animals, and we examine hypotheses about these relationships in the context of the volumes we quantify for weakly electric fish. We propose that the ratio of the sensory volume to the motor volume provides insight into behavioral control strategies across all animals.

And, here is the author summary:

Most animals, including humans, have sensory and motor capabilities that are biased in the forward direction. The black ghost knifefish, a nocturnal, weakly electric fish from the Amazon, is an interesting exception to this general rule. We demonstrate that these fish have sensing and motor capabilities that are omnidirectional. By combining video analysis of prey capture trajectories with computational modeling of the fish’s electrosensory capabilities, we were able to quantify and compare the 3-D volumes for sensation and movement. We found that the volume in which prey are detected is similar in size to the volume needed by the fish to stop. We suggest that this coupling may arise from constraints that the animal faces when using self-generated energy to probe its environment. This is similar to the way in which the angular coverage and range of an automobile’s headlights are designed to match certain motion characteristics of the vehicle, such as its typical cruising speed, turning angle, and stopping distance. We suggest that the degree of overlap between sensory and movement volumes can provide insight into the types of control strategies that are best suited for guiding behavior.

Link via Bora at A blog around the clock.

Fatigue in bulk silicon

November 28, 2007

When I saw this /. post on fatigue in bulk silicon, I got interested enough to go take a look at the APL paper abstract that the piece was referring to. To my pleasant surprise, I found that the first author of the paper is none other than Sanjit Bhowmick, who was a PhD student at IISc Bangalore! The other link that /. provides has a nice summary (and even a micrograph from the paper). Take a look!

A few links: Medieval Africa, College Quidditch and Unparticles

November 28, 2007
  1. Philobiblon reviews a book about medieval African kingdoms:

    The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa is one of those books that does just what it says in the title: this introductory text by Patricia and Frederick McKissack sets out a brief history, a short outline of the life and economies of the kingdoms, and describes the sources on which this information is based – and their contradictions.

    That’s great, and is probably all most readers are going to want, since I suspect most will, like I did, come to the subject from the starting point of almost total ignorance.

    Sounds very interesting, isn’t it? After reading Amitav Ghosh, I always wanted to know more about medieval Africa; this looks like the book I should try first.

  2. Grrslscientist has a must-read post on College Quidditch teams and their (earth-bound) Quidditch games (with a video to boot — just don’t miss it):

    To play earth-bound Quidditch, brooms are required, leaving only one hand available, making the game harder as you chase the game ball, a slightly deflated volleyball.

    Each team has seven cape-clad players, consisting of three chasers who throw the ball among them as they work down the field. If they get it through one of three circular goals (hula hoops on poles), the team scores 10 points.

    At the same time, two other team members fling around dark balls called bludgers in an attempt to distract and knock over opposing players. When a player is hit with a bludger, s/he must drop any ball s/he is holding and run around to her/his goal zone before s/he can make any more plays.

    Seekers try to catch the most elusive ball, the Golden Snitch (pictured, right). In the Rowling books, the Golden Snitch is a small ball that flies about independently. In real life, it hangs in a sock from the shorts of a player selected for fleetness and agility. As in the books, the Snitch disappears for periods of time, reappearing on the field to shrieks of the crowd. The Snitch player has a much larger boundary than the others, often covering a large part of campus. Seekers are the only players who can follow the Snitch. Catching the Snitch is worth 50 points and, as in the Harry Potter books, once the Snitch is caught, the game ends.

    By the way, making a remote driven mechanical snitch should not be too difficult, right? I am getting ideas!

  3. Doug at Nanoscale views points to a nice, pedagogical review on quantum magentism and criticality, which sounds very interesting (and, manages to sneak-in a link to a critique of Garrett Lisi’s paper along the way).

Weekend posts and stunned blogosphere!

November 27, 2007

NEW YORK—In what is being called a seminal moment in Internet history, a rare weekend post by 25-year-old blogger Ben Tiedemann on his website rocked the 50 million-member blogosphere this Saturday.

The landmark post, which updated nearly every member of the global online community on the shelf Tiedemann was building, was linked to by several thousand sites, including Daily Kos, Digg, and The New York Times.

“Wow, what a special treat this was for all of us,” said Talking Points Memo head blogger Joshua Micah Marshal, who, along with all other bloggers, checks Tiedemann’s site every day just in case something monumental occurs. “I thought I was going to have to wait until Monday to find out if Ben decided to put [the shelf] in his bedroom or the living room. The pictures were great, too.”

Within two hours of going live, Tiedemann’s 15-word post received 34,634,897 comments.

No prizes for guessing the source of the news item 🙂

Reading and writing!

November 27, 2007

I do not know how I missed this interview with Junot Diaz at Boldtype. Of course, there are many interesting things that Diaz has to say about Oscar Wao, and the process of writing it. Here is his answer to the first question, namely, if he was a voracious reader when he was a kid, for example:

For me, writing is an outgrowth of reading. I’m a reader way before I’m a writer. It started when I was a kid because when I read I didn’t have an accent. No one could fucking fuck with me, you know? In your head, you sound great. I was convinced that if I read enough, I could erase all the awkwardness of being an immigrant. It took like ten years before I could realize what people were talking about. For the longest time I didn’t know what people meant when they were talking about the Who. For real, bro, it’s amazing. I used to think that if I read enough it would all become clear. But of course that wasn’t true.

Take a look!

Mystery woman (women)?

November 27, 2007

Eurocrime does a bit of blurb comparisons, finds close resemblance in the photos and hobbies of Caro Peacock and Gillian Linscott, and wonders if they are one and the same!