Tuesday, July 31, 2012
[left to right: Whale, Elephant, Giraffe, Bull, Horse, Pig, Porpoise, Ram, Goat, Hyena, Dog, Man]
Read more at the Improbable Blog (check also this link for a video on how penises work; not as simple as you would snigger).
As a bonus, Jim Knowlton gets to teach courses with cool titles, like the Human Gross Anatomy at the Indiana University. The closest cool (or hot?) homophone that I get to teach is the 'Pennes' bio-heat equation, which looks like this:
I also have a Tamil language website, with essays/articles mostly on Science and Carnatic Music and occasional asides.
Interested readers are also welcome there.
Monday, July 30, 2012
The learning outcomes approach recognises and encourages learner-centred learning.That is from a document (pdf download) recommended to me; for assisting primarily 'academics with teaching and unit of study development commitments' in writing their 'learning outcome' in 'higher education courses'.
BTW, 'unit of study', in a language which address Chennai auto drivers as 'transport executives', means 'subject' (a la Thermodynamics).
Filed under: Books
From experience while exposing such lists in blogs, let me add two things. Yes, its only my vanity that exposes such a list. What other primary reason a blog is for? Secondly, the list here doesn’t include the ‘technical stuff’ one gets enamored by and endures with, during ‘office hours’. That would be an overkill, even by the narcissist standards of an academic.
Now for the list, beneath the fold...
Saturday, July 28, 2012
John Timmer in Ars Technica: Epic fraud: How to succeed in science (without doing any).
Early Computing's 'Deal With the Devil': Marc Perry interviews George Dyson, dwelling on themes from Dyson's new book -- Turing's Cathedral -- on the early history of Computer Science.
Nick Rowe: Selection bias and disagreement in blogging.
Greg Downy at Neuroanthropology: Talent: A difference that makes a difference.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
With minor exceptions in plot elements and one neat idea notwithstanding, Railsea, the latest by China Mieville, a talented author at that, fits snugly into the above category.
Railsea has one neat idea. <SPOILER> What if our railroads become in a near-enough future, a sea, a maze of crisscrossing never-ending rails laid on a terrain of 'dangerous Earth'. Railsea as a symbolism for uncontrolled industrialization and associated deprecation. And mankind train-travels on Railsea as voyages on ships commandeered by noble captains bloodthirsty for Railsea monsters as life-ambitions (all domestic and gentle animals of our times have become megasize Railsea 'man-eaters'), as philosophies; </SPOILER> to far-off forgotten lands, salvaging washing machine wrecks of the 'past'; consulting charts and maps to sunken treasures... Pirates of the Caribbean (all four parts) meets Treasure Island meets Mobydick yielding a sum of the parts that is way less than each of the parts.
Railsea is an adventure tale, i.e. an attempt at that. Its target readers age mentally somewhere between a tween and an adult, too old to rejoice in a Treasure Island and too young to enjoy a Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes); too modern for the directness of a Mobydick too impatient for the relaid Ulysses (James Joyce), too distracted to comprehend a Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco). The narration has all the elements tailor made for the genre: short dialogues interspersed with narrative that is also short, peppered with bombastic words perhaps to keep the needle of Fog Index reasonably above comprehension, all sectioned in short chapters of length between a page and five; Oh, BTW, the 'and' is printed throughout as &, with an original, lame, idea that reasons its form with rails (China, ayyoo!).
Railsea is science fiction, i.e. an attempt at that. A silly idea taken seriously, way too seriously by the author. Yes, there will be fans who will take it even more seriously, rave on, to interpret and infuse meanings into the copious blandness of a story that chugchugs sedately with blips of action frenzy, to the most predictable of endings even a P. G. Wodehouse could better. The book is a telegraph pre-script for an inevitable screen-script of a mega summer action blockbuster. Brace self, it could become one; such writing doesn't deserve anything better. Pools of joy and waves of sorrow are drifting through my annoyed mind...get the drift, 'young adult'?
Christopher Priest in a recent criticism of the 2012 ACClarke Award nominees had this to say on China Mieville and his Embassytown (I am selectively quoting portions, without traducing Priest but to drive my point):
Miéville has already won the Clarke Award three times – which is not his fault[...] However, a fourth award to this writer would send out a misleading and damaging message to the world at large: it suggests that not only is Mr Miéville the best the SF world can offer at the moment, he is shown to be more or less the only writer worth reading.[...] Although Miéville is clearly talented, he does not work hard enough.[...] He also uses far too many neologisms or SF nonce-words, which drive home the fact that he is defined and limited by the expectations of a genre audience.[...] A better writer would find a more effective way of suggesting strangeness or an alien environment than by just ramming words together. Resorting to wordplay is lazy writing. [...] I also find Miéville’s lack of characterization a sign of author indifference [...] unless he is told in clear terms that he is under-achieving, that he is restricting his art by depending too heavily on genre commonplaces, he will never write the great novels that many people say he is capable of. In the short term, to imply that this (Embassytown) is the best science fiction novel of the current year by giving it a prize, or even shortlisting it for one, is just plain wrong.After reading Railsea, I agree with Mr.Priest -- whether a Mr. Scalzi agrees or not. I will not pre-order another book by China for some years.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Two moving accounts:
Ashwin Nayak in In Theory: Turing Centennial Post:
We were walking through art galleries in San Francisco when Luca brought up the Turing centenary events that were taking place around the world. None of the events celebrating his work referred to Turing’s homosexuality. Luca wondered whether the celebrations would be complete without revisiting this aspect of his life. As a response, he was thinking of having a series of guest blog posts by contemporary gay and lesbian computer scientists about their experiences as gay professionals. How would they compare with those in Turing’s times? [...]
Standard Deviation ("... true story of a student currently studying at IIT-Madras...") [P. 20 in the pdf]:
Hello. You do not know me. Even the people around me don’t really know me. Because I have a secret, something I’ve kept to my world for a very long time; something I wish to reveal. But not confess; that makes it sound criminal. I need closure and for that, I must be true to myself. So here goes.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
I watched Woody Allen's Oscar winning Midnight in Paris a week before I read Sacre Bleu, the poster of which also used that color blue! The Paris they both depict, a cauldron of creativity and culture, is inspiring and inviting. While the movie glorifies the city and its dwellers in the 1920s, the book is more expansive in its period. Both are positive and entertaining. Surprisingly, the book doesn't utilize the Surrealists of the 1920s -- introduced effectively by Woody Allen in Midnight... -- may be because they didn't use Sacre Bleu, or more to the context, didn't paint real life. Nevertheless, Moore's book has an all star line-up of painters and artists spanning several centuries. Should not reveal more to avoid spoilers, but I was reminded of Danny Ocean's (of Ocean's Eleven) comment, which goes something like: "I always get confused with Manet and Monet; I know one of them is a painter and the other died of Syphilis." I also liked the way Oscar Wilde (and his creation The Picture of Dorian Gray) and Michelangelo are weaved into the main story. But that also prompts my crib. When Moore took a perspective to include sculptors and writers, persons involved in creative pursuits in fields other than painting, I expected him to give a scientist the same treatment as other Creators. Such a character is already there, begging to be 'mused' with all his eccentricities and ludicrous contraptions, in Professeur Bastard.
Don't expect a Coyote Blue or anything that Chris has written earlier. The plot here is even more intriguing and the exploration of the 'what ifs', ambitious. The narrative is taut, the humor, as usual, whacky and sophisticated. In fact, the humour is underplayed (barring the penis fixation, but then it is after all our Chris). Moore's baker protagonist Lucien and family are also likable characters churning up lively banter and bread (with rats). Moore cites enough books and on-field research at the end that made the characters and Paris authentic. He glosses over the explanation for iridescent colors -- which I wouldn't hold against him. I liked the characterization of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, present throughout the book as an ebullient, congenial drunkard of a painter, unlike the one-dimensional recluse portrayed in the movie Moulin Rouge. Sacre Bleu, in my opinion, is the best work of fiction by Christopher Moore. And yes, I don't think Chris ruined Art for everyone. He has entertained it for me in radiant colors.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Timequake is an autobiography. An autobiography can be told only as a 'timequake', a set of events that cannot be altered to suit our convenience and comfort. It has to include all the mistakes, wrong turns and consequences. Timequake is also a fiction. Fiction, as a fertile imagination of the mind of the writer (even as he plays the autobiographer in the same book), is not affected by any 'timequake'. Fiction lives many a life in the mind of the author, even as he relives his life in a timequake. Kurt Vonnegut is the autobiographer. Kilgore Trout is the writer - an alter ego of Kurt. They both recount their stories and life, through 'time quake' and before and after. They even meet, rejoice, relive as they recount. Timequake (1998) is one of the later writings of Kurt Vonnegut (passed away in 2007), is also the most moving of his books, if not the most disturbing (thankfully). The Kurt and Kilgore of Timequake did remind me of the haunting lines of Paul Simon, "Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends.... how terribly strange to be seventy..." They do bring out that sigh but they were also uplifting.
If you are getting introduced to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut through this book, be prepared for an exasperation that should turn into fulfillment only as you finish reading the book. For veteran fans of Kurt this feeling is neither new nor artificial. I got introduced to Kurt through Breakfast of Champions, a whacky, funny and seemingly pointless collection of loosely tied up events, sometimes bizarre and sometimes poignant, narrated presumably by the same guy. After going through Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Bagombo Snuff Box, Welcome to the Monkey House... I have come to expect the exasperation and fulfillment. Books of Kurt works at least in two layers; as individual events, funny and reflective, frivolous and poignant and as a collection with a thread of common message: we, humans, are made of this (war) and this (peace).
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Filed under: Fun stuff
As I was reading my recent research, the kid peeps in with a "Whats this stuff Appa?" and so I gushed exposition from all my science outreach tentacles.
Here is the result.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
excessive and unwarranted and amounted to an abuse of his position as Editor-in-Chiefand he has
failed to provide any documentary evidence whatever that his papers were the subject of peer review,let me give my bloggers' update.
Firstly, I had queried in my second post then, about the peer reviews of those 290 papers. I suggested those PRs to be published in the open to clear the name of EN, if he is a deserving scientist who is 'wronged' by 'libelous criticisms' of 'jealous academicians'. That those peer reviews are non-existent according to the current ruling provides a closure to my post.
[To digress, I wrote a subsequent post on the necessity for open peer reviewing to avoid EN-like mishaps, which is a relevant issue worth discussing at nanopolitan. Later.]
Back when this scandal broke out, I picked it with trepidation, by providing quotes from two links in my first post, one from John Baez and the other by Jacques Distler, both well respected physicists (n-Category Cafe group blog; Azimuth blog by John). Among others, Bee (Sabine) had also linked to John's post, while discussing the EN-issue at her Backreaction. The comments section of that post was closed by her due to excessive sock-puppetry.
You will not find those original posts by John and Jacques anymore on their sites. This vanishing act happened around Jan 2009, just a month or two after their original posting dates (~ Nov 2008). I suspected then that both could have received possible legal threats from EN. There is some tangential corroboration now from Quirin Schiermeier (Nature reporter who wrote the article on EN), who while writing about his "EN libel experience", says:
[...]those who raised their voices, in blogs or letters, were silenced by his threats of litigation.[in above quote, his = EN]
In this context, it is scary to note what QS observes about UK libel laws,
[...] English libel law can stifle justified discourse, including open scientific discussion. The burden of proof falls too heavily on the defendant to prove what they said was true, not on the accuser to show that it is false. The law is therefore more likely to stifle free speech and suppress legitimate criticism than defend the interests of science or society at large [...]Even in Feb 2009, one Jason started a blog El Naschie Watch and collected all news and "facts" about EN -- many of which were shown to be false or duped claims; browse the archive of that blog. ENW blog also linked to the original posts of John and Jacques, and after similar bafflement about their disappearance, had the time and tenacity to scrounge the internet archive to restore their content.
Here it is, in a suitably titled, That Hard-to-Find Baez Material.
But, back then, when the posts of John and Jacques disappeared, I felt shafted. I resolved never to pick up a discussion from blogs authored by those who I am not acquainted with. May be now John Baez would write about why he removed his criticism from n-Category Cafe. May be he won't. We all move on.
El Naschie loses his case against Nature.
Short version: As chief editor of a journal, the man published tons of papers that were widely deemed to be of very poor quality. A Nature story on his retirement, and raised doubts about the peer review process for the man's papers. The man sued Nature for libel and lost.
In a section headed “The implausible absence of documentation”, the ruling also says that El Naschie “failed to provide any documentary evidence whatever that his papers were the subject of peer review”. The ruling states, “I am satisfied that his papers were not the subject of any, or any proper, peer review at all.”
A New Record in Retractions
An inquiry panel in Japan has recommended retraction of over 170 papers by Yoshitaka Fujii. [See also: Retraction Watch posts Report: Fujii faked data in at least 172 papers and Does anesthesiology have a problem? Final version of report suggests Fujii will take retraction record, with 172]
Thanks to Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi for the e-mail alert.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Each of the story in the book is an "untold mystery" by Watson in the original; cases that were solved spectacularly by Holmes, whose time hasn't come then for public consumption. For instance, "The Affair of the Aluminium Crutch", the third story here, was mentioned in the introductory passages of "The Musgrave Ritual". That ploy, while regaling the reader, unfortunately also sets his expectation high. Premonitory came when I read in the first story titled Baron Maupertuis, a sentence "There is certainly more likelihood of picking up Moriarty's trail again if we take up Lady Beasant's consultation, than if we sit here sucking pipes." Sucking pipes? That usage should have given the game away that the author is belabored to put on this writing style that does not come natural for him. But I am nit-picking; so I thought and I persisted my reading. All the usual suspects from Prof. James Moriarty to esoteric Spaniards were there. But the stories, one after another, came with an original title by Doyle, and gloriously fell flat. Even an introduction of a uni-sex character (Watson, there are many other forms of attachment between two men), with a reference to the "esteemed and now infamous Mr. Wilde", couldn't save the book. If these are the stories that go with the titles mentioned in passing as "untold mysteries" in the originals by Doyle, by writing them, Paul Gilbert provides now a good reason why they deserve to remain untold.
Having bitten once, I should have shied. I picked another book of similar purpose, a more recent "Between the Thames and the Tiber: Further Adventures by Sherlock Holmes" by Ted Riccardi. I gave up midway through the third story in this collection, which thankfully, also had 'original titles'. There is no additional cause for dislike in this case. Seriously, what these 'stories' -- for, I wouldn't dare anoint them 'mysteries' -- uniformly lack in plump is the fine art of deduction that Doyle originated and enunciated so well through his Sherlock to unravel a seemingly unsolvable mystery through logical appraisal of clues and facts that were at times merely over the top but neither impossible nor implausible. There are more such attempts to write 'Sherlock Holmes mysteries' by other authors (counted seven). I only hope some of those stories pass muster in the mystery and deduction department. Because, with no real talent in English writing, even I can construct Sherlockian sentences (the only thing going right for these books). Like this: After having brought on my undivided attention to bear upon some of the purported mysteries, delivered in wads of accentuated Victorian text, in two manuscripts by seemingly different authors, nevertheless bereft of any real mystery or deduction whatsoever, I could only throw up my arms now in remonstrance and ejaculate, "Catastrophe."
The goal of "Imagine," according to its subtitle, is to tell us "how creativity works" — to offer a scientific, mechanistic account of a seemingly ineffable phenomenon. And what distinguishes the scientific from other modes of thinking is not its technology, level of detail or even subject matter, but its ability to discover reliable cause-and-effect relationships. The clarity of physics and chemistry is rare in social science, but this is no license for presenting interesting speculations as settled truths.More...
Sunday, July 08, 2012
Short review (of Shallows): Our increased online activities cultivate an increased level of distraction in us than the internet-noisome-free English lit of yore. Is(n't) Google making us stupid? Perhaps yes, according to Shallows, after chapters of eloquent analysis with a detectable tinge of panic. Analysis that is mostly valid for a library or a dictionary or even a shopping mall. All are sources of such 'distractions' that rewire our brain to make us want something else on the rack than what we hold in our hand. Each of the chapters in The Shallows definitely provides in lucid text, well researched information on the evolution of reading in humans, culminating into an argument for 'unplugging' our reading. Ironically, by then, the argument for 'absorbed reading' is blunted by the prose. So, Is Google making us stupid? But do we need Google to make us so? For instance, if we find online activities distracting and hurting an endearing task we were sure we like to do now -- like writing a book named Shallows -- why not reduce online activities or pull out the internet cable? I am checking this one for the past few months with my online writing -- to minimize my "internet distraction" in order to write a book. It seems possible and not as painful as Nick Carr panics in his book. If we are incapable of discerning, deciding and acting on our priorities, do we need a Google to pronounce us stupid?
Long review: If you have read the above 'link-free' paragraph in one go on your screen, you are perhaps too much into IntraWeb you would already have stopped reading books. Or perhaps you are totally 'unplugged' to retain your ability to grasp my sententious paragraphs above, albeit online. In either case, you don't need The Shallows, leave alone my long review of it to help you decide on its reading. Evgeny Morosov in a best-of-2011-put-down suggested, "This is a book that should have stayed a tweet," about a Jeff Jarvis book. I won't dare to suggest such a verdict for The Shallows with its well researched content. But when viewed as a long argument for a 'patented, off-line un-distracted, concentrated reading', I certainly felt The Shallows could have remained Is Google Making Us Stupid.
I am pleased to announce that Arunn Narasimhan is now a co-blogger here.
Arunn has been blogging on and off at several sites, and I have had many occasions to link to his posts. It's fantastic that, in a conversation yesterday, he and I came up with the idea of his joining Nanopolitan as a co-contributor.
Over to you, Arunn!
The Hunted (cartoon), by Abstruse Goose.
Do you still want to see this Odd Particle I’ve found? (cartoon), by Noise to Signal.
A sonnet on a Higgs-like particle (video) by Vi Hart.
Closer Home. On the one hand, The gods of the particles ("The Higgs bit we know. But the boson? Western science is overlooking India's contribution to the discovery") by Amit Chaudhuri, and For the Indian Father of the ‘God Particle,’ a Long Journey from Dhaka by Samanth Subramanian.
On the other hand, Higgs and the subcontinent by Rahul Siddharthan; and also on the other hand (a very snarky one!), Putting the Bose in boson. And my fist in your face-on by Achintya Rao.
Germany: University sues over early graduation: "The School of Economics and Management in Essen is asking the court to make former student Marcel Pohl, 22, pay an extra $3,772 after he obtained his degrees in only three semesters instead of the usual 11."
Thursday, July 05, 2012
... The density of equations in an article has a significant negative impact on citation rates, with papers receiving 28% fewer citations overall for each additional equation per page in the main text. [...]
That's from the abstract of a recent PNAS paper: Heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists by Tim W. Fawcett1 and Andrew D. Higginson of the University of Bristol.
It has been reported to be pretty good at flagging fraudulent data in research publications -- so good, in fact, that it has already led to resignation of a Dutch scientist; according to this Science Insider story, it has forced another (unnamed) perpetrator to resign.
And for all that, the killer app -- a new statistical technique -- is yet to be published.
Science Insider has been covering this very interesting development which, apparently, is sending panic waves into the community of social psychologists:
... and infographics!Lots of stuff for philosophers and historians to nibble at, and (eye) candy for the rest of us...
[Addendum: a bigger, richer infographic of all the influentials in Wikipedia.]