Archive for July, 2009


July 17, 2009

Hindu reports on the passing away of Smt. D K Pattammal:

Her music was known as much for its technical brilliance, as for its emotional appeal. One of the celebrated icons of Indian classical music, D.K. Pattammal, passed away at her residence here on Thursday following a brief illness. She was 90.Hailed as one of the “women trinity” – M.S. Subbulakshmi and M.L. Vasanthakumari were the other two — of Carnatic music, Smt. Pattammal carved a niche for herself, which was marked by an uncompromising adherence to tradition, deep engagement with technical nuances and emphasis on bhava and rakthi.

She was known for her rich repertoire, and particularly for her rendition of compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar. She learnt some of them from Ambi Dikshitar, a descendant of Baluswami Dikshitar, brother of Muthuswami Dikshitar, and later, from T.L. Venkatarama Iyer, an authority on Dikshitar kritis. Her renditions, considered one of the most authentic versions, serve as a valuable guide to other musicians.

In the unique timbre of her voice and unmistakably clear diction, compositions of Subramanya Bharati and Papanasam Sivan reached the masses. She had the honour of performing at the foundation-laying ceremony of the Bharati Memorial at Ettayapuram.

I wrote, long ago, a tribute to the Mahanubhavyai.

This last paragrpah of Gowri’s tribute is sure to bring tears to your eyes:

Once long ago, when asked how she had evolved an original style of her own, DKP replied, “What is bani [style], Amma? Nothing but the constant attempt to overcome flaws. Then, suddenly, you find the string is in tune. You hear it resounding, rich and true. In music, and in life.”

Rejecta Mathematica

July 16, 2009

Rejecta Mathematica is a real open access online journal publishing only papers that have been rejected from peer-reviewed journals in the mathematical sciences.

From here, where the inaugural edition is available; link via MR.

Don’t miss to read the manuscript submission guidelines; a great journal, as far as I can see!

Not all messages can be elevator-y!

July 16, 2009

Here is Doug:

These days we’re told countless times that it’s essential for a scientist to have an “elevator message”. That is, we need to be able to describe what we’re doing in a pitch accessible to a lay person ideally in something like a single sentence. Some people have a comparatively easy time of this. They can say “I’m trying to cure cancer”, or “I’m trying to solve the energy crisis”, and have that be a reasonable description of their overarching research goals. Condensed matter physicists in general often have trouble with this, and tend to fall back on things like “My work will eventually enable faster computers” or “…better sensors”. I’m all in favor of brief, accessible descriptions of what scientists do, but there are times when I think the elevator message idea is misguided. Not every good research program can be summed up in one sentence.

Doug goes on to give a five sentence summary of his research focus. I think it is a good idea for every researcher to come up with a short and pithy description of her own research; it is only one sentence summaries that are not always possible. Having said that, even to give a statement like Doug’s in four or five statements takes lots of thinking, effort and experience.

Benefits of teaching to teachers

July 15, 2009

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, in characteristically dismissive fashion: ‘He who can, does; and, he who cannot, teaches’. However, Shaw was referring to creative writing and not to the practice of science. In science, teaching often benefits the teacher; sometimes even more than it does the student.

P Balaram, here (pdf); link via Abi.

A great service called

July 15, 2009


Solution by LOL

July 14, 2009

Quantum pontiff muses here (via Chad):

Actually I have a history for thinking that humor might be a decent indicator of good research or at least good problem solving (and not just a source of funny talks.) While a graduate student at Berkeley I participated in a San Francisco version of The Game (Fobik: there is a clue on these pages.) Basically this was a multihour (read: all night) puzzle hunt spread around the San Francisco bay area. The basic idea was that at each location there was a puzzle of some sort that you had to solve which would tell you the next location in the game. Imagine hundreds of geeks (including a world puzzle champion who was in my class at Caltech, #yeahrightlikeweweregoingtowin) piled into vans and cars racing from location to location, piling out of the car only to then sit around trying to solve a hard puzzle of some sort. Good stuff.

What does this have to do with humor and research? Well during this game I noticed something kind of interesting. Inevitably we would initially start working on the puzzle and someone would say something completely ridiculous. Like “I bet this puzzle is using flag semaphore!” Invariably, we would all laugh…yeah, right, like they would use semaphore in a puzzle involving chess. Then we would work for a while on the puzzle until someone had the audacity to think, “hey maybe it really does use semaphore.” And lo and behold, yeah that was the key to cracking the puzzle. This didn’t just happen once during “the game” but happened repeatedly (and not surprisingly as we got more tired, things got funnier, and we began to realize that the crazy funny idea we had right off the bat wasn’t something to laugh at, but was something to actually try!) Every time I’m trying to solve a problem these days, I often think, “what would be a funny solution?”

But I wonder if this solution method (“solution by LOL?” “SoLOLution?”) can’t be extended to a method for theory research.

Take a look!

PS: I am unable to resist this one: with humour as the indicator of good research, what is a classic? The paper that got most laughed at!

India must turn itself into a different country to achieve affluence

July 13, 2009

Martin Wolf at FT (via Brad DeLong):

So what needs to happen if Indians are to enjoy an affluent lifestyle? The answer, suggests the report, is that India must sustain growth at close to 10 per cent a year over a generation. This is not inconceivable: China has managed that, from a lower base, over three decades. But it is a massive task, particularly for so huge, diverse and complex a country. Extraordinary change would have to occur, inside India and in India’s relationships with the world.

For this to be conceivable, at least four things would have to happen: the world must remain peaceful; the world economy must remain open; India must avoid the stagnation into which many middle-income countries have fallen; and, finally, the resource and environmental implications of its rise to affluence must be managed.

Moreover, India itself must overcome three big challenges: maintaining, indeed strengthening, social cohesion at a time of economic and social upheaval; creating a competitive and innovative economy; and playing a role in its region and the world commensurate with the country’s size and rising importance. In fundamental respects, India must turn itself into a different country.

Have a look!


July 13, 2009

I first heard a lecture of Prof. T R Anantharaman on Delhi’s iron pillar and I vividly remember his rendering of the inscription on the iron pillar in the metre of Chardula Vikriditha (I think). From this note in Materialia Indica, I learnt of his demise. As the obituary notes, a scholar and a giant of the Indian metallurigcal community, who will be missed.

Why is public discussion on higher-ed so deeply confused?

July 13, 2009

Dead Dad explains:

The variety of definitions may help explain why the public discourse about higher ed is so deeply confused. People use the same words to mean very different things. If your definition of higher ed is all about exclusivity, then political battle cries of “college for everyone!” are unintelligible at best. If your definition is about job training, then the very idea of an expensive liberal arts college is absurd. If it’s about living in dorms and getting away from home, then a community college (or any commuter school) doesn’t really count. If it’s about upholding tradition, then the prominence of cultural radicals at prestigious places must really grind your gears. If it’s about critical thinking, then the culture of college-as-job-training must be like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Take a look!

Honest self-appraisal and some thoughts on lecturing

July 12, 2009

Is there a teacher who has taught a course and hadn’t felt the same way as Luis Von Ahn? (Thanks to Abi for sharing the link at Google Reader):

… even when I prepare a lot, the lectures are not all that great. I make mistakes, I forget to say some things, my handwriting is bad, my jokes fall flat, etc. Every semester there are maybe 3-4 lectures that I am happy with afterwards, and of the rest about 50% totally suck in my mind and 50% are just barely passable.

Von Ahn goes on to talk about making Hollywood style movies of lectures — with script writers and all that!

I don’t know about the movie; however, I think the one who taught or had the idea to teach an entire course with TED style 20 minute modules (I forget where I saw the link — any help to locate the info will be appreciated) got it pucca — I would really love video lectures on YouTube of an entire course with only 20 minute units — each with just one idea to take home!