Archive for September, 2009

This should be the motto of every writer

September 26, 2009

… I’d rather offend people needlessly than use needless words …

That is Paul Graham, here.

What have we found out about the influenza A (H1N1) 2009 pandemic virus?

September 19, 2009

S J Turner et al, explain here! A good piece.

Oppositely charged drops need not always coalesce

September 18, 2009

Here is the piece in Nature. The videos that form part of the supplemntary material are a must watch. Hat tip to Eddie (go to the bottom of the page for his photos and slightly dated profile) for sharing the info on Google Reader.

The Indian Onion?!

September 17, 2009

I think the answer is a resounding yes — after seeing this:

So why are you called noiseofindia?

noiseofindia is short for NOISE.

NOISE = NOISE Of India Special Edition.

This is a recursive name – similar to:

GNU = GNU’s Not Unix
BING = BING Is Not Google.

and this:

Senior scientists at the IISc have expressed alarm at the uncontrolled proliferation of TV channels claiming maximum viewership.Scientists at the IISc are like, WTF. They point out that in any given universe, one and only one TV channel can be the most viewed at standard temperature and pressure.

Wave particle duality
Malayalee particle physicist Prof. Unnikrishnan has blamed this anomaly on the wave-particle duality of electrons, due to which a single electron can seem to be at two different places at the same time. “So imagine what happens when zillions of electrons are beamed at you through your television set. Obviously, you’d be watching several different channels at the same time. This explains how all the news channels have identical ratings.”

Parallel Universe theory
Bengali Astrophysicists Prof. Bose and Dr. Ghose have ridiculed Prof. Unni’s theory, saying that it begins with an anomaly and ends up with an anomalayalee. Bose & Ghose claim that it is a mistake to think that we live in a single universe with multiple TV channels. According to them, each TV channel is a full-fledged parallel universe with its own set of laws and award ceremonies. The viewers exist in remote zones from where they use their remotes to switch between the TV universes. Naturally, each TV channel enjoys total viewership within its own universe, just like DD continues to, with Krishi Darshan.

When reached for comment, Unni refuted the Bengali theory, saying that two Bongs don’t make a right.

Noise of India 🙂

PS: And here is from the introduction to their feed link section:

Angelina Jolie has pledged to adopt a child everytime we update this site. So we update sparingly.

Meenakshi Mukherjee: RIP

September 17, 2009

I heard the news from SWB. Here is the Hindu report. I used to enjoy her writings at the Hindu magazine and literary review.

Is contempt the necessary condition for learning?

September 17, 2009

Murray Gell-Mann seems to say so:

Then how did you settle on physics?
After my father gave up on engineering, he said, ‘How about we compromise and go with physics? General relativity, quantum mechanics, you will love it.’ I thought I would give my father’s advice a try. I don’t know why. I never took his advice on anything else. He told me how beautiful physics would be if I stuck with it, and that notion of beauty impressed me. My father studied those things. He was a great admirer of Einstein. He would lock himself in his room and study general relativity. He never really understood it. My opinion is that you have to despise something like that to get good at it.

Why is that?
If you admire it sufficiently, you’ll be in awe of it, so you’ll never learn it. My father thought it must be very hard, and it will take years to understand it, and only a few people understand it, and so on. But I had a wonderful teacher at Yale, Henry Margenau, who took the opposite attitude. He thought relativity was for everybody. Just learn the math. He’d say, “We’ll prepare the math on Tuesday and Thursday, and we’ll cover general relativity on Saturday and next Tuesday.” And he was right. It isn’t that bad.

Link via Swarup who has pointers to some other material as well.

HowTo: write *the* CV

September 16, 2009

From Inside Higher Ed — Teresa Magnum’s Career Advice column:

… you’ll want to include

  • Your name and contact information: address, email, various phone numbers.
  • Educational history: Note undergraduate and graduate degrees with schools and dates. If you haven’t received your final degree yet, be sure to note the expected date of graduation (or Ph.D. defense).
  • Research and teaching interests (either grouped together or in separate categories). But be honest. What could you teach tomorrow?
  • Dissertation: Most people include the title, the name of the dissertation director, and a three-sentence description that captures the topic, angle, and significance of the project.
  • Work history (usually teaching experience): List relevant positions of responsibility and paid employment.
  • Awards and fellowships.
  • Publications: If you have published your work, excellent. But remember that a stunning dissertation can also win the day.
  • Conferences and presentations.
  • Additional experience: service, committees, volunteer work.
  • Memberships in professional organizations.
  • List the names of faculty members and others who have written letters for you. Include contact information for your university placement service (if they have your letters, etc.).

Women in Engineering Award

September 16, 2009

From Google (Hat tip to Abi for sharing the info on Google Reader):

As part of Google’s ongoing commitment to encouraging women to excel in computing and technology, we are pleased to announce the 2010 Google India Women in Engineering Award, to recognize and reward deserving women students in Computer Science and related majors, and inspire them to become active participants and leaders in creating technology. The awards are based on the candidates’ academic background and demonstrated leadership. A group of female undergraduate, graduate and PhD student finalists will be chosen from the applicant pool. The award recipients will receive a cash prize of INR 100000.

Giant’s Shoulders carnival: 15th Edition — Septmber, 2009.

September 16, 2009

Welcome to the 15th edition of Giant’s Shoulders!

[1] Chronology of the early days of telescope — from the Renaissance Mathematicus

On 25th August Google celebrated the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first public presentation of his telescope an anniversary that is also commented upon in the latest addition of the Guardian Weekly, a compendium of the English daily newspaper The Guardian for ex-patriots like myself. It’s kind of nice to see the world paying a bit of attention to the history of astronomy but unfortunately they both got the date wrong! I suspect that both of them relied on the same news agency report and didn’t bother to check the facts. Well for those that care and even for those that don’t I have put together a short chronology of the early days of the telescope.

[2]  Why, after all, would the Earth moving be such a revolutionary idea? — from Starts with a bang

So, why was “eppur si muove” such a big deal? Didn’t we know about this second possibility? Didn’t people at least consider it?

The answer, shockingly, is no, not really. Why didn’t we consider it? Because looking up and noticing that the heavens rotate predated our idea that the Earth could be round. If the Earth is flat, then it wouldn’t make sense for it to rotate, would it?

The huge mistake is that once we discovered the Earth was round (in about 300 B.C., by the way), we didn’t reconsider this problem. We didn’t go back and say, “Hey, you know what? Instead of this celestial sphere idea, maybe it’s just us that’s spinning!” And so we held onto the idea of a fixed Earth for nearly 2,000 more years.

I can’t help but wonder, if we went back and critically re-examined our assumptions and conclusions based on what we know now, if we would uncover some fantastic possibilities that could challenge our current scientific views of the Universe? Or, if everything we have concluded to this point really is the scientific best we can do with what we know?

By the way, the video of the rotation of the sky and the stars that this piece links to is a must-see!

[3] Which is the first modern disaster to be studied from a sociological and psychological perspective? — from Providentia

… the Halifax Explosion represented one of the first modern disasters to be studied from a sociological and psychological perspective. Several years after the explosion, Samuel Henry Prince completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University.  His thesis, titled Catastrophe and Social Change: Based on a Sociological Study of the Halifax Disaster, represented the first systematic study of relief efforts following a major disaster. As a scholar, pastor, and social activist, Prince’s own experience dealing with disaster was considerable. Not only was he part of the rescue effort following the Titanic sinking five years earlier, but he narrowly escaped being injured in the Halifax explosion himself (despite the risk of flying glass, he arrived on the scene just minutes after the blast to help with rescue efforts). After the explosion, Prince helped mobilize international relief efforts and continued to work on behalf of survivors and their families for years afterward.In his book, Prince described the “shock and disintegration” that followed the explosion as well as the massive relief effort needed and the complex social issues that were linked to aiding survivors. He also emphasized the long-term consequences of the tragedy by stating: “The Halifax Disaster will leave a permanent mark upon the city because so many of the living have been blinded or maimed for life. But it is possible that the disaster may leave a mark of another sort, for it is confidently believed by those who took part in the relief work during the first few weeks that Halifax will gain as well as lose.  The sturdy quality of its citizens will bring “beauty out of ashes”””. Prince also stressed the role that disasters can play in bringing about meaningful social change to prevent future loss of life.

Although there had certainly been previous disasters and major relief efforts, Catastrophe and Social Change represents one of the first attempts at studying disasters from a social science perspective and is still considered a classic in the field. While emergency management would eventually become a well-researched topic after World War II, the lessons learned from the Halifax Explosion continue to be applied in rescue efforts around the world.

To download Catastrophe and Social Change

[4] The Osborn headaches — from Lealeps

Osborn was not suggesting that his “aristogenes” were macromutations that were then acted upon by natural selection. The new traits were already fine-tuned to what the creature needed to survive. Thus, for Osborn, “artistogenes” were by definition adaptive. Later in the same paper he wrote;

A new aristogene is readily distinguished from a new D. mutation [i.e. a sudden, large-scale mutation that gives rise to a new trait] by invariably obeying the eighteen principles of biomechanical adaptation; D. mutations on the contrary may or may not be adaptive.

This may seem straightforward now, but let me assure you it took a lot of careful reading to tease this much out. While Osborn did make many important contributions to paleontology his ideas about evolution, especially in his later years, were often presented in a tangle of new terms and references to certain laws or principles. It seemed like he was trying to make his hypotheses more law-like by forming new terms and trying to boil them down to the workings of chemistry and physics, but it seems to me that this approach backfired.

[5] Is selfish gene the bio-sciences equivalent of Newtonian gravity? — from the Primate diaries

Over many generations Wilson and Swenson continued to collect the bacteria laden soil from under the largest and smallest plants and grow more plants of the same species. What they found was that plants grown in the two soil ecosystems grew the same as previous (genetically unrelated) plants had. By selecting groups of bacteria, rather than the individual plants, Wilson and Swenson demonstrated how group selection could give rise to the most fit individuals. Since the network of soil bacteria thrive so long as their host plant thrives, the mutualistic relationship promotes each individual bacteria in the network, but they are only able to thrive because of the selection that occurred at the level of the group. This is how multilevel selection operates.

At this time, multilevel selection theory is in its infancy and it’s currently unknown how widespread this kind of selection is in the natural world. However, I believe the research shows great promise and deserves to be taken seriously. It’s unfortunate that Dawkins has often been as stridently against this line of research as he has been with religious conservatives. Referring to this research as the “group delusion” and Wilson’s interest in it as a “weird infatuation” demeans his role as an advocate of cutting edge scientific research. Multilevel and group selection theory is not ideologically driven and the primary interest is to advance knowledge of evolutionary history not condemn it. Unfortunately, Dawkins has made the issue personal when the focus should be on the merits of the research itself.

However, all of this is commonplace in the history of science. Dawkins, like Newton before him, is passionate about his topic and will defend his perspective vociferously. I don’t believe the life sciences equivalent of Einstein has entered the stage just yet, but I do think that such an arrival should be anticipated and welcomed as we continue to expand our knowledge about the natural world.

The following three pieces might be a bit of stretch of Giant’s Shoulders’; but, hey, they are interesting; so, here you go!

[A1] Arrival of Starlings in North America

[A2] The departure of the ice man — or, is it the arrival?

[A3] The Dispersal of Darwin’s Cambridge visit posts!

Have fun; and, the next edition will be published at Quiche Moraine.

An interesting review and an interesting book

September 15, 2009

Looks like this might be an interesting read; and, this review is also very, very interesting.