Thursday, November 30, 2006

Water from thin air

Saw this in Sumankumar's blog (
"A company that developed technology capable of creating water out of thin air nearly anywhere in the world is now under contract to nourish U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.

The water-harvesting technology was originally the brainchild of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which sought ways to ensure sustainable water supplies for U.S. combat troops deployed in arid regions like Iraq.

"The program focused on creating water from the atmosphere using low-energy systems that could reduce the overall logistics burden for deployed forces and provide potable water within the reach of the war fighter any place, any time," said Darpa spokeswoman Jan Walker.

To achieve this end, Darpa gave millions to research companies like LexCarb and Sciperio to create a contraption that could capture water in the Mesopotamian desert.

But it was another company, Aqua Sciences, that developed a product on its own and was first to put a product on the market that can operate in harsh climates.

"People have been trying to figure out how to do this for years, and we just came out of left field in response to Darpa," said Abe Sher, chief executive officer of Aqua Sciences. "The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won't work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere.""

Could this be some sort of fog catching technology? Later part of the article says that the technique needs at least 14 perecent humidity.

Paul Tough's "What it takes to make a student"

which appeared in New York Times on November 26th on "closing racial/economic education gap" is drawing positive reviews from many quarters. Here is a post from AFT (American Federation of Teachers) NCLBlog which links to many other comments. Look in particular the comments of Jal Mehta, CitySue and Kevin Carey.

Kenneth Davidson on Cole Report

From Age opinions :
"It is the actual knowledge of the Commonwealth that the information was false or misleading that is material ... It is immaterial that the Commonwealth may have had the means or ability to find out that the information was misleading, or that it ought reasonably to have known that the information was misleading ... the question whether the Commonwealth may have had constructive knowledge (in the sense that it ought reasonably to have known the truth or that it had the means and the ability to find out the truth) is immaterial. A false statement may still operate on the mind of the person who merely has constructive knowledge so as to result in the person being misled or deceived."

Brilliant. The Houdini defence. It is what we know we know that makes us guilty. That which we know we don't know gets us off the hook. Effectively, the Government's innocence was written into the terms of reference of the Cole inquiry, bolstered by the choice of commissioner who showed his mettle to the Government's satisfaction in the two-year inquiry into the building industry.
Update: See for more information and discussion.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Recent reports from SciDev Net

India gives West Africa 250 million US dollars to develop biofuels: story here .
Modifed (eatable) cotton seeds :
"Scientists (not from Monsanto) have genetically modified cotton to make its seeds — which are full of high-quality protein — fit for human consumption"
and wheat gene discovery that could fight malnutrition:
"Scientists (from University of California at Davis) have found how to boost the protein, zinc and iron content in wheat, which could help to solve nutritional deficiency that affects two billion people worldwide, especially in the developing world".

An Indian Cultural Heritage Site

Impressive site .
Some more can be found at

Inspiring video

I have been watching this off and on for the last few days
Got it from this post in Crooked Timber.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wal-Mart to enter Indian market

Pl.see .
It may be recalled that Wal-Mart and Monsanto are on the Board of "Indo-US Knowledge Initiative On Agriculture Research and Education." Some concerns are expressed here , here and here . Some recent developments here .
Reliance has already entered the retail market in some places and this gives some early responses. Witsoe in here suggests that organized retailing may help small farmers.

Interesting speculations on autuism

Seed magazine has an interesting article on autuism by Simon Baron-Cohen , professor of developmental psychopathology and director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University. Apparently, autuism is on the increase from about four in 10,000 in the 70's to one percent today. It is not clear from the article in which countries this increase has taken place but media reports indicate high incidence in places like the Silicon Valley. Cohen's guess is that systemitizing mechanism is set at higher level in the case of autuistic children and that there is assortative mating at work: people who are attracted to systems are more likely to have a partner who shares this characteristic. And modern life is throwing such people together. Cohen gives some testable predictions. My friend Perepa Joshi's son is researching on autuism and I hope to get some feed back one of these days.

Routes to happier life

One of them according to

"Every night, she was to think of three good things that happened that day and analyze why they occurred. That was supposed to increase her overall happiness.

"I thought it was too simple to be effective," said Miller, 44, of Bethesda. Md. "I went to Harvard. I'm used to things being complicated."

Miller was assigned the task as homework in a master's degree program. But as a chronic worrier, she knew she could use the kind of boost the exercise was supposed to deliver.

She got it.

"The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier," she said.

Results may vary, as they say in the weight-loss ads. But that exercise is one of several that have shown preliminary promise in recent research into how people can make themselves happier - not just for a day or two, but long-term. It's part of a larger body of work that challenges a long-standing skepticism about whether that's even possible."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Links between diet and violence

From The Guardian (via Evolutionary-Psychology group):

"....Taken together with a study in a high-security prison for young offenders in the UK, it shows that violent behaviour may be attributable at least in part to nutritional deficiencies....

For the clinician in charge of the US study, Joseph Hibbeln, the results of his trial are not a miracle, but simply what you might predict if you understand the biochemistry of the brain and the biophysics of the brain cell membrane. His hypothesis is that modern industrialised diets may be changing the very architecture and functioning of the brain.

We are suffering, he believes, from widespread diseases of deficiency. Just as vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, deficiency in the essential fats the brain needs and the nutrients needed to metabolise those fats is causing of a host of mental problems from depression to aggression. Not all experts agree, but if he is right, the consequences are as serious as they could be. The pandemic of violence in western societies may be related to what we eat or fail to eat. Junk food may not only be making us sick, but mad and bad too.
An earlier pilot study on 30 patients with violent records found that those given omega-3 supplements had their anger reduced by one-third, measured by standard scales of hostility and irritability, regardless of whether they were relapsing and drinking again. The bigger trial is nearly complete now and Dell Wright, the nurse administering the pills, has seen startling changes in those on the fish oil rather than the placebo. "When Demar came in there was always an undercurrent of aggression in his behaviour. Once he was on the supplements he took on the ability not to be impulsive. He kept saying, 'This is not like me'."

Demar has been out of trouble and sober for a year now. He has a girlfriend, his own door key, and was made employee of the month at his company recently. Others on the trial also have long histories of violence but with omega-3 fatty acids have been able for the first time to control their anger and aggression. J, for example, arrived drinking a gallon of rum a day and had 28 scars on his hand from punching other people. Now he is calm and his cravings have gone. W was a 19st barrel of a man with convictions for assault and battery. He improved dramatically on the fish oil and later told doctors that for the first time since the age of five he had managed to go three months without punching anyone in the head."
"Over the last century most western countries have undergone a dramatic shift in the composition of their diets in which the omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to the brain have been flooded out by competing omega-6 fatty acids, mainly from industrial oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower. In the US, for example, soya oil accounted for only 0.02% of all calories available in 1909, but by 2000 it accounted for 20%. Americans have gone from eating a fraction of an ounce of soya oil a year to downing 25lbs (11.3kg) per person per year in that period. In the UK, omega-6 fats from oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower accounted for 1% of energy supply in the early 1960s, but by 2000 they were nearly 5%. These omega-6 fatty acids come mainly from industrial frying for takeaways, ready meals and snack foods such as crisps, chips, biscuits, ice-creams and from margarine. Alcohol, meanwhile, depletes omega-3s from the brain.

To test the hypothesis, Hibbeln and his colleagues have mapped the growth in consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils in 38 countries since the 1960s against the rise in murder rates over the same period. In all cases there is an unnerving match. As omega-6 goes up, so do homicides in a linear progression. Industrial societies where omega-3 consumption has remained high and omega-6 low because people eat fish, such as Japan, have low rates of murder and depression."
Pl. read the complete article.

For the scientifically minded

From AlphsPsy :
" launched tuesday an on-line colloquium about “Representation and Adaptation”. The interdisciplines conferences are among the most exciting intellectual events on the Internet; this one features, among others, Daniel Dennett and Peter Godfrey-Smith, along with scholars from philosophy, AI, and theoretical biology. It tackles the difficult question of how natural selection could give birth to entities as refined as mental representations, while it kept remaining its usual stupid self (full disclosure: Hugo and I are among the discussants, so don't take our word for it, go see the site)."
The discussion here . I am not following the discussion; at the moment it seems to be 'fog upon fog'. There is an an earlier online seminar on mirror neurons at the same site which I found more interesting. But Chris of Mixing Memory is not so enthusiastic about mirror neurons.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Teaching problems

"During lectures, they answer their cell phones, text message their friends and play games on their laptop computers.

Are college students really that rude?

Yes, says Delaney Kirk, a professor of management at Drake University in Des Moines.

But, she adds, it's not their fault.

"It's the same behavior we're seeing in the rest of society," Kirk says. "There's a general lack of social skills.""

Could it be lack of role models? And what we see on TV and newspapers everyday? Profits, market economy?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Scenes and sceneries from Andhra villages

I have uploaded some photographs, mostly taken by my son Rohan, of Andhra villages. If somebody like Kuffir asks "What is the point?", I have no answer. These are the kind of images that I remember frequently and they do not seem to have changed much since I finished school in 1954. There is also one of me singing to my granddaughter Leila. I found that I was loosing my breath and decided to give up smoking. It was 20 days ago and the going is tough. The previous attempt in 1988 lasted four and half years; that time visa to Australia was delayed by 6 months due to some suspicion about lungs. I am still struggling with Partha Dasgupta's papers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

An investment banker's view of democracy

James Macdonald's "A Free Nation Deep in Debt: the Financial Roots of Democracy" first appeared in 2003 and has been drawing good reviews since then (I am now browsing through the book). Here are two old reviews one by Gordon Wood here (which needs subscription) and one by Forrest McDonald here . ( The second review at Both the reviews also review Bruce Mann's "Republic of debtors".
An excerpt from Forrest McDonald's review:

"Now let us turn to the area of public finance. Throughout the ages and until comparatively recently, the main reason governments or states needed funds was to bear the costs of waging war. In ancient times the method was simple: the winner defrayed the costs by looting and/or enslaving the vanquished. For the loser, the cost was not a consideration, for as a practical matter that side ceased to exist. Later, upon the emergence of absolute or nearly absolute monarchies, the economics of statecraft changed somewhat. Kings rarely had credit, for they were apt to renege on their obligations, and the moneyed classes went into hiding or hid their assets whenever agents of the crown came around. Normally, therefore, kings saved their revenues between wars, until they amassed enough to launch hostilities anew. When the funds, unless replenished by looting, ran out, they had to stop fighting. They repeated the cycle again and again.

The solution was the invention of public debt, which was possible only in states that were relatively free, for the essence of a public debt is that it is owed by the citizens of a state to one another. The central thesis of A Free Nation Deep in Debt is encapsulated in its subtitle, The Financial Roots of Democracy, and if allowance is made for the fact that James Macdonald really means free government and not "democracy," the argument is convincing and insightful.

Between the 13th and the 16th centuries, the city-states of Italy created a genuine system of public debt. Next came Holland, which was able to win its long war of independence from Spain even though the "parent" country was far richer and more populous—because Holland had an endless source of revenue in the form of public debt owned by its citizens."

Now a paperback edition is out and new set of reviews. Here is one by James Galbraith which reviews both Macdonald's book and "Economic origins of Dictatorship and Democracy" by Acemoglu and Robinson is available from Mark Thoma's site here. Some excerpts, first about Acegmolu and Robinson book:

"Work of this kind ... is not so much incomprehensible as pointless. It actually isn’t incomprehensible, if you work hard enough, but the symbols are empty, and the description is not of a real society, but of an institutional vacuum, uninhabited by actual human beings, untracked by actual data. No measurement will ever test the theory. ...

And yet, Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy will be heavily cited, lavishly praised, and assigned to advanced seminars in the better graduate schools. Too bad. For it isn’t about democracy. It’s about a cardboard caricature... In sketching their caricature, Acemoglu and Robinson strip the democratic ideal of substantial and also of ethical content. ...".

But Galbraith's parise for Macdonald's book is lavish:
"For MacDonald, a British former investment banker, ... the progress of democracy is the expansion of the franchise, a word with two meanings: its present one of the right to vote and an ancient one meaning freedom from direct taxation. In turn, public debt ...[and] the institutions of finance, missing from Acemoglu and Robinson’s economics, suddenly take on the pivotal role...

It’s a simple but compelling argument. States exist to make war; those who win survive. Public credit is a powerful weapon; states that can borrow win wars. And so even narrow democracies, rooted in parliaments going back to the Middle Ages, have an evolutionary advantage over absolute monarchies, for the king’s credit is always poor. ...

A beauty of MacDonald’s idea is that it can be tested against situations he doesn’t discuss. Thus the democratic decolonization of India fits: It occurred after India had become a large war-time creditor of Britain. And the struggle for democracy in Latin America is complicated by foreign debt, easily analyzed as an external electorate of enormous power–one in obvious economic conflict with the voters who, at best, only hold the internal debt...

Given the simplicity and power of this argument, one reads the epilogue of this great book with surprise and sorrow. In MacDonald’s view, it’s all over. In the nuclear age, deficits and bond drives on the world-war scale are history, and the American citizenry has lost its pride of place as creditor of the American state. Today, financial intermediaries hold about 37 percent of U.S. public debt; Japan and China, along with other countries, now hold about 30 percent. The proportion of U.S. debt owned directly by Americans has fallen to below 10 percent; in 1945 (when the debt was more than twice as large in relation to GDP as now) citizen-creditors just about held it all. He concludes that the link is broken and "for all practical purposes, the venerable marriage between public credit and democratic government, so vital a factor in the history of the world, has been dissolved."

I do not quite understand the reference to India becoming a large war-time creditor to Britain. Perhaps somebody can explain. Another recent review of Macdonald's book is here.

UPDATE: Some version of Acegmolu-Robinson book seems currently avaialable online here. Despite the rave reviews of Macdonald's book, I feel that it is worth looking at other approaches. Macdonald's approach has the virtue of parsimony and explaining situations which he does not consider. But by now, conceptually democracy has a life of its own and like many evolutionary concepts, it has uses for what it was not originally meant for.

Discover's list of great science books

As expected led by Darwin's books. Article and list here .
Now that the Royal Society has elected an economist Partha Dasgupta, I hope that future lists will have some economics books.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A new online business journal

According to Nov. 9 issue of the Economist, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has launched an Indian version of its popular Knowledge@Wharton online business journal:
The first issue has an interview with Finance Minister P.Chidambaram who says that "India can supply food and clothing to half the world".

Two recent posts about SEZs in India

Jayaprakash Narayan in his blog suggests:
"Third, in all developmental projects like special economic zones, land losers can be given equity in the form of ownership of a portion of the developed land. This will give farmers a share in the prosperity and make available more land for development."
Crooked Timber on uses of IT refers to this article . Excerpt:
"Raigad district (Maharashtra): Roughly 140 kilometre from Mumbai, farmers are turning to technology to fight for their rights.

Four months ago, the farmers of Pen taluka in Raigad district were told the state government was acquiring their land to help build the 25,000 acre Maha Mumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

That's when an activist of the SEZ Hatao Virodh Samiti, Arun Shivkar, logged on to Google Earth.

“We used Google technology to prove to the authorities that the land is fertile,” said Shivkar.

Shivkar says initially state authorities claimed that only a small portion of the earmarked land is fertile and that some parts of it is submerged by salty creek water, meaning lower compensation for the farmers."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Daron Acemoglu

More than hundred posts later I am no where near to understanding economic matters or the great divergence. One economist who seems to make some sense to me is Daon Acemoglu. Here is a brief description of his work from
economicprincipals :

"Daron Acemoglu's good fortune was to graduate from the University of York at the very moment that the hourglass of development economics was at its narrowest, when all the complications of economic growth had been briefly reduced to an argument about the causes of "technical change."

Like Gerschenkron, Acemoglu had been raised in a developing society -- in Istanbul, a Turk of Armenian descent. His father was a professor of law, later an attorney for banks and corporations. Political economy and development strategy came naturally to the dinner table.

But his parents died when Acemoglu was in his teens. Political science at York disappointed him; he switched to economics instead. And when MIT admitted him to graduate school but failed to offer a scholarship, he did his doctorate at the London School of Economics instead, writing a dissertation on a variety of labor and macroeconomic topics. A year later, MIT hired him to teach -- an intriguing but unknown quantity at whom they wanted a closer look. Four years later they gave him tenure. He added dual citizenship as well.

The committee that gave the 38-year-old Acemoglu the Clark medal last week described him as "extremely broad and productive," noting that in the course of a dozen years he had made significant contributions to the study of labor markets before moving on to "especially innovative" ideas about the role of institutions in development and political economy.

In fact, it was a series of investigations in the history of the European colonization of much of the rest of the world, beginning in the 15th century, that made Acemoglu's reputation, demonstrating that institutions of various sorts were more important to development than economists previously had thought. The "rules of the game" -- the structure of property rights, the presence of markets, and their various frictions, the form that governments take -- are key determinants of what happens next, Acemoglu showed, in some unusually inventive and convincing ways.

Take the rise of Europe in the first place. The importance of the Atlantic trade had long been noted, and various reasons for it advanced. With Simon Johnson of MIT's Sloan School and James Robinson of the University of California at Berkeley, Acemoglu argued in "The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change and Economic Growth" that England and the Netherlands leapt out front because a newly emergent merchant class benefited most from trade -- and was able to successfully demand institutions to protect their property and commerce. In contrast, although they had been the first to discover the richest lands, Spain and Portugal stagnated because their monarchies had managed to capture the early returns, they argued -- and thus were able to thwart their merchants' drive for power.

In "Economic Backwardness in Political Perspective," Acemoglu and Robinson argued that political elites can be expected to pursue "blocking" strategies when innovation threatens their monopolies and when there is little threat to their power from politics. External threats reduced the temptation to block, they found -- producing a model that suggested why Britain, German and the United States had industrialized during the 19th century, while the landed aristocracies in Russia and Austria-Hungary sought to hold back the tide.

In "Reversal of Fortune," Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson argued that colonial powers pursued very different strategies in different lands, with fateful consequences. In rich and densely populated countries such as Mexico and Peru, they extracted wealth; in poor and sparsely settled countries such as British North America and Argentina, they encouraged investment.

And in "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development" they inventively teased evidence from differing mortality rates faced by Europeans in different countries of how the choices made in those circumstanced gave rise to different institutions and so to different development paths.

The Clark committee noted that some of the methods and conclusions were still being debated -- but that a broad and substantial rethinking of the development process was underway no matter what. The appearance this summer of Acemoglu's book with Robinson, The Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy will stimulate much further discussion. The MIT course that he teaches with fellow professor Abhijit Bannerjee on development issues is routinely oversubscribed. And a long list of projects underway testifies to his staying power."
Many of Acemoglu's publications can be found here.
Among science writer-reviewers H. Allen Orr seems excellent. Here is a brief introduction to Orr.
Some more articles by Orr at NY Review of Books .

Friday, November 10, 2006

Elections in Tamilnadu in the old days

It seems Tamilnadu was not doing so badly in the old days. In "Castes of Mind" by Nicholas Dirks, I read that there were divorcee and widow remarriages in temples before the British period (see page 73, line 21 from above). Now I see this story of a record of elections and constitution in Uttiramerur in the tenth century via Mark Thoma :
"In disqualifying a candidate, primary importance was given to elimination of corruption. Not only corrupt persons but those who abetted corruption and the near relatives, were debarred from contesting an election for seven generations."
Original report here .

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sustainable agriculture?

"The story goes back to about one and half decades. There was not enough water to extend his simple method of blossom irrigation (using pipelines) to whole of the estate. They could hardly irrigate a few acres. In 1992, one of the biggest water sources of his estate, flowing from a valley within his land dried up in summer. A shocked Chandranath didn't know how to solve his water crisis.

At this juncture, he chanced upon an article on Abdul Kareem who has grown natural forest in 32 acres of denuded hilltop in Kasaragod district. This had considerably augmented the water sources in the hill. This story inspired Chandranath great deal.

If water source has to be improved, learnt Chandranath, a forest has to be developed in its catchment area. In Chandranath's case, the catchment area of his main water source, a huge valley, was already fully covered with coffee plantation. But that didn't discourage him. He started planting many forest trees in between. Today, after 14 years, an area of approximately four acres has grown into a thick forest. As the forest trees grew, the water source improved. It's running bountifully since more than 9 years.

"There is 15 years effort behind this mini-jungle", explains Chandranath. Most of this area is rock-laden. Top soil depth is very less. The sandy-loam soil loses moisture very early. As such he had to irrigate the forest plants. Once a week from January to April. While planting, cow dung was applied. Small doses of chemical fertilizer once a year in the next two years. "If you take care and do this much of maintenance" points out he, "then the forest will grow on its own." "

Stunning photographs of India

At indianglory
(via ajayshawblog ).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Straight talk by Raghuram Rajan

This article by Raghuram Rajan seems to explain some of India's problems. Excerpt:
"In sum, even in a society where political institutions ensure that citizens' preferences matter, initial inequalities (in education and wealth) may be self-perpetuating. Citizens, fearing that the advantage gained by one group may come at the expense of the meager rents of the other, become like crabs in a bucket, preventing each other from getting out. Uncertainty about who will get the benefits of reforms can further compound resistance. Underdevelopment can persist with the full connivance of the exploited, even with reasonably well-functioning political institutions. Finally, while stylized, the example is consistent with the evidence that far too many poor economies, like India, have underemphasized universal education while overemphasizing higher education and that the poor and uneducated in a number of countries in Latin America have turned against (partial) economic liberalization because they see few of the new opportunities while bearing additional costs."

Entrepreneurship in India

From Knowledge.Wharton :
"In some respects, India seems to be doing everything wrong: regulatory protections for investors are weak, banks don't lend much money to small- and medium-size businesses, and the country's legal system is highly corrupt. Yet when it comes to growing its economy, India seems to be doing everything right.
ndeed, the study, "Financing Firms in India," challenges the conventional wisdom among academics and public policy experts that corruption automatically impedes economic advancement of developing countries, according to Wharton finance professor Franklin Allen, one of the authors of the study.
"The academic literature says developing countries need a good legal system and honest government to grow," Allen states. "We found, however, that a low level of corruption is not a significant impediment to growth because businesses can obtain financing and settle legal differences outside the legal system in ways that are quite effective."

"Small- and medium-size Indian companies have found ways to get around [the limitations of the country's financial and legal systems]," says co-author Sankar De, clinical professor and executive director of the Center for Analytical Finance at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. "They depend on informal mechanisms for dispute resolution. They lend and borrow from each other. In many ways, they bypass formal financial markets and courts of law."

A significant part of the study consisted of extensive surveys of non-state, non-listed private firms of small and medium size, one of the most successful sectors in the Indian economy. These firms have grown faster than the rest of India's economy during the past 15 years, even though the financing of this sector is clearly different from that of state and listed firms, according to Allen.

De notes that these businesses account for more than 40% of the total value added in Indian manufacturing. "Neither the absence of formal legal processes nor the [lack of] access to financial markets and credit seem to have impeded their growth rate," De says."
Pl. read the entire article and also Madhukar Shukla's comments on the informal sector here .

Friday, November 03, 2006

America may get a social democrat senator

From The Guardian
"Bernie Sanders is so far ahead in the contest for Vermont's vacant seat for the US Senate that it seems only sudden illness or accident could derail his rendezvous with destiny, after eight terms as the state's only congressman. His success flies in the face of all the conventional wisdom about American politics.

He is an unapologetic socialist and proud of it. Even his admirers admit that he lacks social skills, and he tends to speak in tirades. Yet that has not stopped him winning eight consecutive elections to the US House of Representatives.

"Twenty years ago when people here thought about socialism they were thinking about the Soviet Union, about Albania," Mr Sanders told the Guardian in a telephone interview from the campaign trail. "Now they think about Scandinavia. In Vermont people understand I'm talking about democratic socialism."
An interesting discussion on social democracy at Crookedtimber is available
Update: He won.

Two online books on Economic History

A new site on economic history gives links to two online books on economic history:
The first one by Gregory Clark A Passage to Alms seems readable to non-experts like me.
The second one is by Brad DeLong Slouching Towards Utopia: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century.
Tyler Cowen describes Clark's book here
Rajeev Ramachandran commentson Clark's book in two posts in his blog:
Abi at Nanopolitan points to this interesting Mark Thoma's commentary.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thought for a rainy day.

Mathematician V.I.Arnold ( according to official rumours, he missed a Fields medal because Kolomogrov did not write a letter in time) says:

Among other important things Poincare explained that 'only non-interesting problems might be formulated
unambiguously and solved completely'.

The quote is from the book "Mathematics:Frontiers and Perspectives" Edited by Arnold, Atiyah, Lax and Mazur, Published by Amer. Math. Soc. 1999.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Some myths debunked

From article by Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi

"In this article we point out inconsistencies associated with the ghost, vampire and zombie mythologies as portrayed in popular films and folklore, and give practical explanations to some of their features. We also use the occasion as an excuse to teach a little about physics and mathematics."

A Daasari ballad

Via Bhupinder at blogbharti. It seems that an old Daasari ballad 'Chenchulakshi' from Andhra Pradesh which I only faintly remember is available now through the efforts of Rolf Killius and British Library. See Derek Beres blog for some comments.

On Levitt and Freakonomics

An interesting review here (courtesy Greg Menikw). My earlier naive comments here. Excerpt from the above review:
" But Freakonomics is no better a guide to our changing times than "Chaos" was to atmospheric science. The influence of that butterfly's wings has been exaggerated."
The review also mentions other popular economics books like Tim Harford's ""Undercover Economist" but not Heilbronners's "The Worldly Philosophers".