Posts Tagged ‘Arthur C Clarke’

Popular account of mathematics of networks and obituary of Arthur C Clarke

April 12, 2008

Stephan Mertens reviews a popular mathematics book on networks by Peter M Higgins titled Nets, puzzles and postmen for Science:

In every network, there are at least two nodes that have the same number of links. Translated to a social network, this means that at any party there will be two people with the same number of friends at the gathering. For a proof of this fact, party style, suppose that there are n guests at the party. The number of friends that a guest can have at the party ranges from 0 to n -1. Label n martini glasses with these numbers, and ask each guest to put an olive in the glass that represents the number of his or her friends. Now there are n olives and n glasses. Glass n -1 will contain an olive only if there is a guest X who is a friend of everybody else. In this case, glass 0 must be empty, because everybody is friends with X. If, on the other hand, someone put an olive in glass 0, there can’t be anyone who is friends with everybody, and glass n -1 must be empty. In effect, there are only n -1 glasses for n olives, so at least one glass will contain more than one olive. The guests who put their olives in this glass have the same number of friends. QED. The book rarely gets more complicated than this, even when Higgins (a mathematician at the University of Essex) explains quite sophisticated facts about networks.

Looks like a nice read, from the review at least.

In the same issue of Science, Joseph N Pelton and John Logsdon pay their tributes to Arthur C Clarke:

Scientific giants give us powerful understanding of how nature works. Newton identified gravity; Curie provided knowledge of radioactivity; Einstein, the space-time continuum; Hubble, a yardstick to measure the size of the “Big Bang universe.” Other powerful figures in human history contribute primarily by their insights into what might be. They span an incredibly broad range of art, literature, invention, and scientific inquiry. Leonardo Da Vinci is an obvious prototype, whose work and thoughts have transcended time.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke was clearly one of these “others.” He was able, decade after decade, to generate prescient insights into the scientific and social worlds. He skipped merrily and with equal aplomb from the world of imagination to that of science and technology. He was the essence of wit. But there was more than wit and insight to his work. Unlike his contemporaries–Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein among them–Arthur Clarke remained an optimist about the human ability to make life better through the peaceful use of science and technology. That he was often disappointed in reality did not temper that optimism. Though he was not a religious man, there was an underlying positive spirituality to his writings that set him apart. He was convinced that human destiny involved leaving the Earth for other places in the solar system and beyond, and that the results of space exploration would improve the human condition.

The obituary also mentions some facts about Clarke that I did not know of:

Now, after 90 full years, Arthur C. Clarke is launched into the cosmos for a welldeserved rest. This is no mere literary allusion. Clarke, who had no false sense of modesty about his achievements, arranged for a lock of his hair to be launched into space so that he could share his DNA with the universe.

Take a look!

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Tributes: a polymath, a Buddhist scholar, a filmmaker and a SF writer

March 29, 2008

The magazine edition of the Hindu today contains (quite unplanned I suppose), tributes to several interesting people.

  • Ramachandra Guha pays his tributes to the polymath Damodar D Kosambi, and his father and Buddhist scholar Dharmanand Kosambi:

    A friend who lives in Goa writes to say that he is greatly enjoying the series of lectures being organised there to commemorate the centenary of the polymathic scholar D.D. Kosambi. The historian Romilla Thapar had spoken in the series, as had the jo urnalist P. Sainath; two Indians one thinks the notoriously judgmental Kosambi would have approved of, both for the depth of their research and the commitment to their craft.

    Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi was a remarkable man. Trained as a mathematician, he then went on to train himself as a historian. His day job was as a Professor of Mathematics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. On the train up and down from Poona (where he lived), and during the evenings, nights, and weekends, he gathered the materials to write some pioneering works of historical scholarship, among them A Study of Indian History and The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline.

    Among the community of Indian historians there is almost a “Kosambi cult” in operation. It is good that the civil society of Goa is joining academics elsewhere in India in paying tribute to his memory. But mostly forgotten in the meantime is a Kosambi who was perhaps an even more remarkable man. This was the historian’s own father, Dharmanand.

    I first heard of Dharmanand Kosambi from a friend who taught for many years at the University of California at Berkeley and is arguably the greatest living scholar of Jainism. His name is Padmanabha Jaini. It was in Berkeley on a cold January afternoon, years ago, that Professor Jaini acquainted me with the elements of Kosambi pére’s life. As a young man he felt the urge to learn Sanskrit; finding the urge irresistible, he left his wife and baby boy to go to Poona and study with the great Sanskrit scholar R.G. Bhandarkar. His studies inculcated further desires and ambitions; among them to make a deeper acquaintance with Buddhism. He travelled around the country, spending time in Baudh Gaya, in Sarnath, and in Kausambhi, near Allahabad, where the Buddha lived after attaining enlightenment. It was from this last place that he took the name by which he and his son came to be known. So far as I know, this remains the only “Kosambi” family in Goa, India, or the world.

    Dharmanand Kosambi spent a decade in the United States, in which time his son studied mathematics at Boston University (to add to the Sanskrit and Pali that he learnt at home). Reading about Gandhi’s movement made the senior Kosambi turn his back on America (and the scholarly study of Buddhism) to return to India and court arrest during the Salt Satyagraha. He was deeply attached to Gandhi; when the Mahatma moved to Wardha in 1934, Dharmanand Kosambi moved with him too. When I visited the ashram in Sewagram some years ago, an elderly (and knowledgeable) guide showed me the hut Gandhi lived in, as well as the huts occupied by his closest associates, such as Mahadev Desai and Mira Behn (Madeleine Slade). Then he pointed to a structure, as modest as the others, which he called “Professor Sahib Ki Kutir”. This was where the one-time Goan, Buddhist scholar, and Harvard academic had spent his last years.

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this most remarkable man concerns the manner of his death. In the summer of 1947, with the country on the eve of independence, Dharmanand Kosambi decided he did not need to live any more. So, in the hallowed Buddhist tradition, he simply fasted to death.

  • Pradeep Sebastian’s interview with Pico Iyer is a tribute to Anthony Minghella, a filmmaker who passed away recently:

    When a long-time editor at Time Magazine asked Pico Iyer recently to name all the people in the world he would be interested in interviewing, he named only two: Orhan Pamuk and Anthony Minghella. For Iyer, Minghella had been a hero, a one-of-a-kind filmmaker. The one director Iyer wanted adapting his novel, Abandon, for the screen. I knew all this, so when I first heard about Minghella’s death, I thought at once of Pico. In the past, we had often spoken of how much both of us loved Minghella’s first film (with its lovely title) “Truly, Madly, Deeply”.

    He had told me once that after seeing “The English Patient”, he had been inspired to write the kind of fiction Minghella would have delighted in. I have no way of knowing if the filmmaker did read Iyer’s beautiful and radiant novel, but I have often fantasised about bringing it to Minghella’s attention. I would say, handing Abandon over to him, “Here is the book you have been looking for, stop looking elsewhere.”

    Minghella’s most underrated film is “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. It is a film I have come to admire more and more, though Pico himself thinks it an interesting failure. (While telling me once, “Minghella’s failures are more interesting than most people’s successes.”) The week before he died, Anthony Minghella had just completed making a television film of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency for HBO and BBC.

  • Nalaka Gunawardane pays his tributes to Arthur C Clarke:

    “Do you know about the only man to light a cigarette from a nuclear explosion?” Sir Arthur C. Clarke was fond of asking his visitors a few years ago.

    Clarke, the celebrated science fiction writer and space visionary who died on March 19 aged 90, loved to ask such baffling questions.

    In this instance, the answer was Theodore (Ted) Taylor, a leading American nuclear scientist who designed atomic weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. Apparently, he just held up a small parabolic mirror during a nuclear test — the giant fireball was 12 miles away — and turned light into heat.

    “The moment I heard this, I wrote to Taylor, saying ‘Don’t you know smoking is bad for your health?’” Clarke added with a chuckle.

    In fact, he took an extremely dim view of both smoking and nuclear weapons, and wanted to see them outlawed. But he was aware that both tobacco and nukes formed strong addictions that individuals and nations found hard to kick.

    Years ago, Clarke had coined the slogan “Guns are the crutches of the impotent”. In later years, he added a corollary: “High tech weapons are the crutches of impotent nations; nukes are just the decorative chromium plating.”

Happy reading!

Arthur C Clarke: RIP

March 18, 2008

Among his legacies are Clarke’s Three Laws, provocative observations on science, science fiction and society that were published in his “Profiles of the Future” (1962):

¶“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

¶“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

¶“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

From the NYT obituary: via Rahul.