Archive for February, 2008

Tolstoy’s audio podcast?

February 29, 2008

Anastasia Yelayeva has an interesting piece in the Hindu:

In the summer of 1908, Edison requested the author of War and Peace to make some recordings for him in English and French. “…Short messages conveying to the people of the world some thought that would tend to their moral and social advancement. My phonographs have now been distributed throughout all of the civilised countries, and in the United States alone upwards of one million are in use,” the American wrote. “Your fame is worldwide, and I am sure that a message from you would be eagerly received by millions of people who could not help from being impressed with the intimate personality of your own words, which through this medium would be preserved for all time…”

The Russian consented. In December 1908, Tolstoy’s personal physician Dushan Makovitsky made a diary entry about the “arrival of two Englishmen with a good phonograph,” who recorded and then played back Tolstoy’s voice.

We learn from the doctor’s personal notes that Tolstoy “practised before speaking into the phonograph, especially the English text.” He prepared for it thoroughly, was nervous and thought a great deal about what exactly to tell the millions of listeners “in all the civilised countries of the world.”

Tolstoy’s friend and assistant, Vladimir Chertkov, advised him to read out in English an extract from the treatise ‘On Life,’ written in 1887. As Tolstoy’s physician attests, the writer delivered the Russian and French texts on the first try. When it came to reading in English, he stumbled on a couple of words and decided to record afresh the following day.

The recording turned out to be very good. It survived the journey across the ocean and reached Edison, who confirmed its high quality.

Take a look!

My first reviewing experience: Part III: Writing the report

February 29, 2008

By far, I found that writing the referee report to be the most time consuming and difficult part of the exercise; there are several reasons for that. First is that I generally tend to take more time to write; the second is that this is the first time I am writing a document of this type–though I have seen some when I got the referee reports for my papers, I was not sure if they are the best samples, nor did I know how much of editing was done to them before it got passed on to me. What I would have liked is to have seen some of the reports that people I respect a lot for their integrity as well as writing skills; unfortunately, the peer review system being what it is, I was not sure if it is a proper thing for me to ask them to show some of their reports. So, as I mentioned in my earlier post, I asked my mentors if they would be willing to read through mine and give me comments and suggestions; fortunately for me they were willing to. And, that saved the day. The third reason for the difficulty is of course the delicateness needed to put forth ones views on paper in a very compelling language but without looking like a jerk. I can only hope I succeeded!

In any case, my report consisted of two sections: a section with critical comments and a recommendation based on the same, and another with some minor corrections and quibbles which would help the authors improve the manuscript. While writing the report, I also kept in mind the tips from the editors of the journal, and tried to answer questions of originality, relevance and presentation.

Though there was an option for me to give some confidential remarks to the editor (which will not be passed on to the authors), both my mentors felt that all of my comments were such that they can be passed on to the authors, and so, that is what I did.

My first reviewing experience: Part II: Reviewing

February 29, 2008

Earlier I wrote about my accepting the paper for review. I have completed the review within the period suggested by the editors, namely, two to three weeks. On the whole, the entire process of reviewing and writing up the report cost me six to seven hours. Considering that I took nearly 15 days or so to complete the process, on the average it cost me about half-an-hour per day. So, I think, if I am not too pressed for time, I will be able to review twelve papers or so per year — which is not a bad number — in fact, by some reckoning, that would actually mean that I have to write at least three papers a year.

Recently, I learnt about a couple of mistakes reviewers tend to make, namely, demanding reflexively that more be done and failing to consider all the goals and requirements for the journal. I tried to keep them in mind while carrying out the review, and, I think I did not make either of them.

For the review, I read the paper in the same way I read any journal paper: abstract, conclusions, introduction, skimming through the results, the  sections of formulation or methodology or experiments, and, several back and forth readings of the results and the formulation, methodology, experiment sections. As I was doing that, I was also trying to picture in my mind how I would make a presentation out of the paper if I have to — like, for example, where does the work fit in the scheme of things, how it compares with the existing studies in the area, what is new, what is the take home message, etc, — and, this exercise helped me make decisive comments about the work. Of course, I also had to borrow a couple of text books from the library, and check out a few references. Along the way, I started jotting down the comments and questions I had.

The next step was very crucial to me since I had to take some expert opinion on my opinions of the paper; so, I had a discussion with a couple of my mentors and with one of my colleagues. That gave me some pointers, and all of them agreed with me largely on the conclusions I  have reached.

Both my mentors also agreed to read through my report and give me the feedback; this feedback was crucial. It so happened  that both of them pointed out a mistake I made in my report due to my lack of understanding as well as unfamiliarity with some of the literature in the area. But for their feedback, my report would have contained at least one error.

On the whole, it was a nice educational experience, and I would not mind doing that again for another paper!

Peter Grimes of Britten

February 29, 2008

After reading Alex Ross’ The rest is noise, I have brought home the three CD set of Britten’s Peter Grimes, though, I am yet to listen to it; so, the link by Jenny to the composer Nico Muhly’s introduction to the piece with excerpts comes to me at the right moment.

Correlation between deformation and applied force

February 29, 2008

Some biomechanics stuff I noticed at Improbable Research involving spatula and human brain:

“Modelling of Interaction Between a Spatula and a Human Brain,” Kim V. Hansen, Lars Brix, Christian F. Pedersen, Jens P. Haase and Ole V. Larsen, Medical Image Analysis, vol. 8, 2004, pp. 23–33. (…) The authors, who are at Aalborg University, Denmark, explain that: The idea is to provide surgeons with a tool which can teach them the correlation between deformation and applied force.

A matter of academic etiquette!

February 29, 2008

FSP explains:

My intention here is not to whine or complain. My intention is to say to any students who read this: if someone writes you letters, and especially if someone has written > 10 letters for you (each one special!), let them know the outcome. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a summer internship or tenure-track faculty position: some of us want to know. Maybe some don’t, but err on the side of assuming your letter-writers are interested, that we do care, or even that we have idle curiosity about your fate.

A musical beginning for Independent India

February 29, 2008

Musicians have contributed to the Indian freedom movement a lot — names like MS Subbulakshmi, D K Pattammal, and Omkarnath Thakur who sang the “Deshabhakthi” songs comes to my mind immediately. However, I did not know that on the eve of Indian independence, there were concerts in Delhi. Sriram Venkatkrishnan, in his latest Encore piece writes about this not so well known (at least to me) aspect of history:

Pillai was a staunch Gandhian and nationalist. So when India attained independence, he, at the instance of the Pandara Sannidhi of the Tiruvavaduturai Mutt, travelled with T.N.Rajarathinam Pillai to be present in Delhi on August 15, 1947. There he accompanied TNR, when at the instance of P. Subbaroyan, the maestro was asked to play the nagaswaram for half an hour before the country became independent. The nagaswara chakravarti and the abhinava nandikeswara together thus ushered in the country’s freedom.

Take a look–it is a must-read piece!

Ram Guha on influences, historical narrative, and Udupi mutt lunch!

February 28, 2008

Would you like to talk a bit about the works of history that have most influenced your understanding of the art and craft of narrative history? I know that the historian Marc Bloch was an early influence on you…
Apart from Bloch, his great Annales School colleague Lucien Febvre was also an early influence, as was the British social historian EP Thompson. I have also learnt a great deal from Indian writers, particularly the sociologists André Béteille and MN Srinivas—the two scholars who, in my view, have written most insightfully on society and politics in modern India.
A historian must read capaciously, and eclectically. He must read writers Indian and foreign, theorists as well as biographers, sociologists and essayists apart from formally trained historians. But in the end he must use the narrative style that works best with the theme that he has chosen and the material that he has gathered. In this sense, no other historian or book can serve as a model or exemplar. If you compare India after Gandhi with some of my other books, you will see that it is more sociological and argumentative than Savaging the Civilized, my biography of Verrier Elwin (which had to follow a person’s life and emotions closely); yet less sociological than A Corner of a Foreign Field, my social history of cricket, whose organizing categories are race, caste, religion, and nation.

From this interview at The Middle Stage (Hat tip to Abi for sharing the link).

By the way, there is more in the interview than the quote above suggests; for example, he talks about two recent music books, Kumar Mukherjee’s The lost world of Hindustani music, and Namita Devidayal’s Music room, as well as about a lunch at Udupi mutt (and, having eaten such a lunch at least five or six times, I can vouch for Guha’s comments on the food, though, I never had the pleasure of such company as he had during the meal):

The Madhava Brahmins love their food, and this particular meal consisted of forty-two separate items, each listed on a printed card. Udupi is on the crest of the Western Ghats, so to add to the various varieties of cultivated cereals, legumes, and vegetables came a whole array of items picked from the forest—among them wild mango, jackfruit curry, and bamboo shoot pickle.

The meal was made more memorable by the company. We ate sitting cross-legged on the floor. On my left was the Sikh sociologist J PS Uberoi, on my right the Christian anarchist Claude Alvares—both accustomed by culture and upbringing to deprecate vegetarian food as simply ‘ghaas’. Opposite me was the veteran Gandhian Dharampal—not allowed by his upbringing to eat meat, but not allowed either to be exposed to such subtle varieties of taste and essence. As we ate, Anantha Murty walked up and down, explaining the origins and significance of each of those forty-two dishes.

When I was young, I used to say, at the conclusion of every concert by Mallikarjun Mansur that I was privileged to attend: ‘Please, God, allow me to hear this man once more in the flesh before he dies’. Now, from time to time I ask the fellow above that I may be allowed one more meal at the Admaru Mutt before I die.

By the way, during one such lunch, one of our co-eaters told us of a proverb in that region which goes as “Thengina marada maelae utaa andhare, kattu janivaarakke lota”, which, roughly translates to “If somebody says food on top of the coconut tree, tie the tumblers to your sacred thread”, and for such a food, I too would be willing to climb a coconut tree with a tumbler tied to my sacred thread (which also tells you why it is a good idea to have the sacred thread handy!) .

Skilled, clever experiments, psychedelic data and provocative theories

February 28, 2008

Doug at Nanoscale views gives an example of each in the papers that were published in cond-mat in the past week!

Science writing and doing research

February 28, 2008

Recently, Arunn at Unruled Notebook BAMBed. Here are a couple of posts from that day that I found interesting:

Have fun (and let us hope Arunn BAMBs often and not once a National Science Day/Week).