Archive for November, 2012

Whiskers have a homepage too

November 23, 2012

NASA Goddard Homepage for Tin and other metal whiskers!

It is not the equations that are the problem

November 7, 2012

In the latest issue of PNAS there are several articles which the mathematically minded among you (and are involved in the mathematisation of your own fields) might enjoy.

James Gibbons asks the equations be not thrown out with theory bathwater.

Chitnis and Smith argue that mathematical illiteracy impedes progress in biology.

Adam Kane has some suggestions for improving mathematically heavy papers.

Andrew Fernandes argues that there is no evidence of equations impeding communication among biologists.

Finally, Fawcett and Higginson whose paper started all these comments, give their version:

 It is not equations that are the problem; it is equations without sufficient accompanying text to explain the assumptions and implications for a broad biological audience. We do not recommend the indiscriminate removal of equations from scientific papers.

Explaining the mathematics in sufficient detail for a broad audience can, however, require considerable space. As a pragmatic solution acknowledging the constraints many journals impose on article length, we suggested that authors might move some of their equations to an appendix. Our viewpoint is that essential equations capturing the assumptions and structure of a model should be presented in the main text, whereas less fundamental equations, such as those describing intermediate steps to solutions, should be presented in an appendix.

A nice set of articles worth your time.

Gokulam, Poonthalir, Amar Chitra Katha and all that

November 6, 2012

The first bookstore that Jabberwock remembers is not even a bookstore! I grew up in a home which stacked lots of books and I started reading the abridged 2000 word vocabulary words before I got introduced to children’s magazines such as Gokulam, Poonthalir and Amar Chitra Katha; growing up with two more siblings, there were elaborate procedures and rituals as to who got to read which magazine in what order. But the feeling that Jabberwock describes is something that I have also experienced, even if the person who brought the magazines was my father on his trips to and from the nearby town!

A must-read piece, by the way.

Writing as meditation

November 6, 2012

Tomorrow’s Professor has a post about writing as an action of discipline (post number 1209):

Perhaps brilliant, transformative ideas are not the only ones that should be written down (and perhaps these types of ideas only can come about in the context of writing more routine, ordinary insights). Perhaps the goal should be providing meaningful, valuable contributions to our professions. Expecting anything more may create too much pressure and lead to debilitating blocks and limitations. Besides, more than one brilliant scholar has been denied tenure for not having developed the practice of writing and so not publishing. To be successful in publishing articles, you need to develop writing as a practice or discipline.

In this sense, writing is similar to meditation. It is very hard to meditate well if you only do so once in awhile. Meditating only when you want to reduce stress may provide some benefits, yet many of the most powerful effects demand daily practice. When you meditate daily, meditation becomes integrated into the core of your life. Over time it becomes both easier and more beneficial. Having a daily meditation practice forces you to be disciplined, consistent, and focused. Over time, you experience new depths, insights, and benefits. If you miss more than a day or two, you come to feel as if something were missing, as if something were not right.

The same is true with writing. When you are out of practice, the blank sheet is daunting. However, when writing has become a central part of your life, words and ideas tend to flow—if not effortlessly, at least more smoothly. Daily or near-daily writing can even become like a meditation practice, something that takes you out of yourself, connects you to different parts of your personality, and helps you let go. When writing becomes a friend, a daily routine, it loses much of its anxiety-producing qualities.When you do not have to worry whether you will be able to produce because you already are producing on a consistent basis you are free to consider what you want to write about and who you want to become as a scholar. What we are suggesting is that we treat writing as a creative, life-inspiring practice. This clearly demands an attitude shift for many of us. It is not enough to wish this relationship into existence: it requires practice and work, including work on the psychological and emotional barriers that you identify in yourself. It also can mean learning to view writing as a vehicle for becoming more fully who you are. For some, this may be an extreme and unhelpful goal. For those of you who do not wish to see writing in this almost spiritual light, at the very least you nevertheless will need to develop a practice of writing.

The post could not have come at a better time for me than when I am struggling with nearly five writing projects: two big ones (book length writing projects), one very important (funding proposal) and a couple of small ones (papers to be completed and sent)!

Tikz and pgf

November 5, 2012

I have heard about tikz and pgf sometime ago from a colleague. I need to check them out sometime! In the meanwhile I am parking the link here for future use.

Hacking urban space

November 2, 2012

An interesting piece about bicycling and urban sociology/ethnography:

Back in 2009, I was taking a graduate class on “concept work” and Chris Kelty came to visit. I had a chance to babble a little bit about my dissertation project studying bicycling in Los Angeles, and Chris speculated that bicycling could be a way of hacking urban space. This made a lot of sense to me. When you are doing an ethnographic study of one mode of transport in a city where another mode of transport reigns supreme, you notice things that are otherwise hard to see. Living among bicyclists in Los Angeles meant that I learned short cuts and the locations of tunnels under freeways, found out how to avoid major streets and still get across town, and questioned the dominant academic view of Los Angeles as a postmodern non-city.

The bicycle can be an experimental tool for ethnographic work. In my case, studying the social/cultural life of bicycling worlds, this was front and center in my fieldwork life. But I know many other people have found examining the bicycle as an object and bicycling as a practice productive while studying other topics more directly. For example, Wiebe Bijker’s writing on the development of the safety bicycle has given insight into the social construction of technology. And Robin LeBlanc called her 1999 book about Japanese housewives’ political engagement Bicycle Politics because she found that her mode of transport during fieldwork gave her a useful metaphor for the limited (but existent) political power of the women she studied.

“The world we see at a given time is chosen for us by the transportation we use to get there,” LeBlanc commented in her introduction. Has bicycling gotten you into new worlds, as an ethnographer or in other areas of your life?

Take a look!