Sunday, February 15, 2015


  1. Must-read essay of the week: Stephen Marche in The Guardian: Centireading force: why reading a book 100 times is a great idea. Brought back wonderful memories of reading Tamil writer Sujatha's novels so many, so many times that Marche's description of this experience totally resonated with me: "familiarity with the text verges on memorisation – the sensation of the words passing over the eyes like cud through the fourth stomach of a cow." He actually has more about this experience:

    By the time you read something more than a hundred times, you’ve passed well beyond “knowing how it turns out”. The next sentence is known before the sentence you’re reading is finished. As I reread Hamlet now, I know as Gertrude says, “Why seems it so with thee?” that Hamlet will say “Seems, Madam? Nay it is. I know not seems.” I know as Bertie asks “What are the chances of a cobra biting Harold, Jeeves?” that Jeeves will answer: “Slight, I should imagine, sir. And in such an event, knowing the boy as intimately as I do, my anxiety would be entirely for the snake.” Centireading reveals a pleasure peculiar to text lurking underneath story and language and even understanding.

  2. Austin Frakt and Aaron E. Carroll in NYTimes: Can This Treatment Help Me? There’s a Statistic for That. And that statistic is called NNT -- number needed to treat:

    Developed in the 1980s, the N.N.T. tells us how many people must be treated for one person to derive benefit. An N.N.T. of one would mean every person treated improves and every person not treated fails to, which is how we tend to think most therapies work.

    What may surprise you is that N.N.T.s are often much higher than one. Double- and even triple-digit N.N.T.s are common.

    [Take the case of aspirin, for example.] According to clinical trials, if about 2,000 people follow these guidelines over a two-year period, one additional first heart attack will be prevented.

    That doesn’t mean the 1,999 other people have heart attacks. The fact is, on average about 3.6 of them would have a first heart attack regardless of whether they took the aspirin. Even more important, 1,995.4 people would never have a heart attack whether or not they took aspirin. Only one person is actually affected by aspirin. If he takes it, the number of people who remain heart attack-free rises to 1996.4. If he doesn’t, the number remains 1995.4. But for 1,999 of the 2,000 people, aspirin doesn’t make any difference at all.

  3. Evelyn Lamb in SciAm Blogs: Gauss and Germain on Pleasure and Passion. Excerpts from a wonderful letter from Carl Friedrich Gauss to Sophie Germain after he learnt that Germain, who was writing to him earlier under the name of one Monsieur LeBlanc, was actually a woman.


  1. Vijay Sethuraman said...

    I have had similar experience with Sujatha's short stories - there is a collection of them in a book called Srirangathu Devathaigal (ஸ்ரீரங்கத்து தேவதைகள்) and an expanded version called Srirangathu Kathaigal (ஸ்ரீரங்கத்து கதைகள்). He talks about his childhood memories growing up in his paatti's house in Srirangam. In particular, there is this story called பேப்பரில் பேர் (Name in Newspaper). This is about a cricket match between the Srirangam Cricket Team (a patched-up team with a bunch of school kids) and the visiting Thanjavoor team (all big big mamaas). Somehow the kids win and Sujata's name appears on the newspaper the next day. This is a Lagaan story set in the 1950s Srirangam in Sujatha's narration. Reading (more like millireading at this point) this nowadays transports me to the Srirangam of the 50s. Vijay.