Archive for July, 2012

Update: CUDA computing

July 30, 2012

I installed the device driver, tool kit and SDK (after taking help from here and here for problems with make–gluErrorString and missing cuda libraries error messages) and I passed both deviceQuery and bandwidthTest. Next step is to make sure that I can use eclipse for cuda code development.

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HowTo: write

July 25, 2012

Here is some advice on writing under time constraints; Andrew via whom I got the link has other thoughts though! ZapperZ recommends IOP guidelines.

The debts of a self-made man

July 25, 2012

A piece by John Scalzi in which he tells why he pays his taxes and feels good about it:

I am financially successful now; I pay a lot of taxes. I don’t mind because I know how taxes helped me to get to the fortunate position I am in today. I hope the taxes I pay will help some military wife give birth, a mother who needs help feed her child, help another child learn and fall in love with the written word, and help still another get through college. Likewise, I am in a socially advantageous position now, where I can help promote the work of others here and in other places. I do it because I can, because I think I should and because I remember those who helped me. It honors them and it sets the example for those I help to help those who follow them.

I know what I have been given and what I have taken. I know to whom I owe. I know that what work I have done and what I have achieved doesn’t exist in a vacuum or outside of a larger context, or without the work and investment of other people, both within the immediate scope of my life and outside of it. I like the idea that I pay it forward, both with the people I can help personally and with those who will never know that some small portion of their own hopefully good fortune is made possible by me.

So much of how their lives will be depends on them, of course, just as so much of how my life is has depended on my own actions. We all have to be the primary actors in our own lives. But so much of their lives will depend on others, too, people near and far. We all have to ask ourselves what role we play in the lives of others — in the lives of loved ones, in the lives of our community, in the life of our nation and in the life of our world. I know my own answer for this. It echoes the answer of those before me, who helped to get me where I am.

Take a look!

NB: Hattip to my friend Sirish Waghulde for email alert.

Orthogonal metals

July 24, 2012

A very nice and lucid explanation of metals, Mott insulators and orthogonal metals!

HowTo: be clutter free

July 23, 2012

Mind Hacks has a nice pointer:

Say I am cleaning out my stuff. Before I learnt about the endowment effect I would go through my things one by one and try to make a decision on what to do with it. Quite reasonably, I would ask myself whether I should throw this away. At this point, although I didn’t have a name for it, the endowment effect would begin to work its magic, leading me to generate all sorts of reasons why I should keep an item based on a mistaken estimate of how valuable I found it. After hours of tidying I would have kept everything, including the 300 hundred rubber bands (they might be useful one day), the birthday card from two years ago (given to me by my mother) and the obscure computer cable (it was expensive).

Now, knowing the power of the bias, for each item I ask myself a simple question: If I didn’t have this, how much effort would I put in to obtain it? And then more often or not I throw it away, concluding that if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t want this.

Apparently, this works even while reading your mail:

… it works for emails too. If someone sends me a link to an article or funny picture, I don’t think “I must look at that”, I ask “If I hadn’t just been sent this link, how hard would I endeavour to find out this information for myself?”. And then I delete the email, thinking that however fascinating that article on the London sewerage system sounds or that funny picture of a cat promises to be, I didn’t want them before the email was in my possession, so I probably don’t really want them now.

Have fun!

The computing pleasures

July 23, 2012

I recently upgraded my desktop by enhancing the RAM (from 4 to 16GB)  and adding a GPU (GeForce GTX580) card. However, I had trouble in using all the RAM; it would show only 4G, and I learnt that I either have to update the kernel or load a 64bit version. I decided to go for the second option and, while at it, decided to load the Precise Pangolin (Ubuntu 12.04).

My initial attempts to load Pangolin failed because I did not turn on the noapic, nolapic and nomodeset options while loading Ubuntu. Once I got that right, rest has been a sail. I really, really like the feel of the Unity desktop even though I am still learning the tricks. On the whole a nice experience so far.

Now, I am able to get a simulation with 4096×4096 size running (which takes only half of the available memory)! This probably is the first time I am running such a large scale simulation; the previous big simulations used to stop at one quarter of this size (at 2048×2048) and I am very, very excited!

Next step is to figure out CUDA and start using the GPU for computations, and needless to say, I am looking forward to it.

Academic writing for public

July 23, 2012

Via John Hawks, I ended up at this piece, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are some nice put-downs as Abi would call them:

Thomas Friedman knows how to write a freshman-year research paper at the last minute.

It goes on to point the importance of developing a formula:

… Friedman, although admittedly annoying, actually has manufactured a coherent, transportable analytical framework. We many disagree with it. He may simply be wrong (often, I suspect). But he’s actually got a coherent explanatory strategy that you can even spoof as Nolan has. The satire works because of the formula.

The sad thing is that, at this point, I’m not sure that we’ve got the same sorts of, hopefully much better, formula to provide a public based on new research in neuroanthropology. Evolutionary psychology has got a formula. Marxism has got a formula. Dynamic systems theory in biocultural anthropology — nope.

And, the need for effective writing with some examples:

One thing you and I at least try to do is communicate with the public, and to write reasonably clearly when we discuss our ideas and research. That in itself – good writing, without the convolutions and jargon and stilted prose seen in some academic papers – is a form of generalization. That is something I appreciated about the Nolan piece. Take this short paragraph:

Scrutiny does not make it more difficult for leaders to make sensible, brave decisions; it makes it more difficult for leaders to be corrupt and cheat on their wives. Thomas Friedman does not point out this discrepancy. He has more important thoughts to deliver.

That paragraph delivers critique, a discussion of power, a characterization of leaders, and more, all in four simple lines. It’s complex, even though it reads in a straight-forward manner. I do wish more anthropologists realized that effective writing matters. Rather than going on and on, hitting the reader over the head with all the detail of how something is complex, good writing can deliver complexity in an intelligible and enjoyable way. It’s one of our greatest tools, but we misuse it constantly.

And, there are also some nice pointers to writing a blog post too:

Have a lead, something to grab readers attention. Then tell readers what your post is about. Go through a series of clear points or illustrations (your argument). Wrap it up, generally by providing the reader with some sort of pay-off for sticking with you for so long – a good conclusion, some funny final thought, a personal note, and so forth.

In his pointer, John Hawks makes another interesting point about the current status of column writing:

The “public intellectual” space is choked with airheads who don’t understand science and technology. But I would sound like an airhead if I argued that people would better understand complexity if only scientists could write more like Thomas Friedman. The problem isn’t that the 800-word NY Times column lacks content. That’s foreordained. The problem is that longer-form pieces, the 4000-word New Yorker variety, have become the province of formula writers like Malcolm Gladwell. Long-form gives space to actually explore a complex idea, but mainstream media has blinkified the format. For now.

Finally, while we are on the topic, I had thoughts very similar to that of Greg and Daniel while reading Nico Slate’s Colored cosmopolitanism: the shared struggle for freedom in the United States and India. The book has several interesting things to say; but the way it says them is such a plod! And, certain passages are distinctly academic (specifically, of the dissertation or thesis writing variety). With a little bit of crisp-ifying, it would have been such a pleasure to read.

NB: By the way, the comment of how Slate’s book is written should not discourage you from picking it up; it is just a warning; the plodding is worth for the information that you glean; all I am saying is that it could have been done with more style and flair.

WhyTo: not get a PhD

July 22, 2012

Some thoughts; via.

Scientific/engineering/mathematics software

July 22, 2012

A good list and contains several of my favourites: FFTW, GSL, Sage, Octave and R; scilab and gnuplot are missing though.

A must-read

July 21, 2012

Based on the first ten pages or so that I read, I have no hesitation in recommending A R Venkatachalapathy’s The province of the book: Scholars, Scribes and Scribblers in Colonial Tamilnadu. I learnt about the book thanks to Pradeep Sebastian’s Endpaper column in the Hindu. Here is another review in the Hindu. Once again, must, must read! Will post more once I complete the book!