Sunday, May 31, 2009

Things academic

Interesting article How to Learn About Everything (via Marginal Revolution which has interesting comments). Some excerpts:
"Note that the title above isn’t “how to learn everything”, but “how to learn about everything”. The distinction I have in mind is between knowing the inside of a topic in deep detail — many facts and problem-solving skills — and knowing the structure and context of a topic: essential facts, what problems can be solved by the skilled, and how the topic fits with others.

This knowledge isn’t superficial in a survey-course sense: It is about both deep structure and practical applications. Knowing about, in this sense, is crucial to understanding a new problem and what must be learned in more depth in order to solve it. The cross-disciplinary reach of nanotechnology almost demands this as a condition of competence.

Studying to learn about everything
I recommend that intellectually ambitious students invest considerable time in a mode of study may set off subconscious alarm signals that conflicts with almost instinctive impulses imparted by classroom experience:

Read and skim journals and textbooks that (at the moment) you only half understand. . Include Science and Nature.
Seldom stop to study a single subject with a student’s intensity, as if you had to pass a test on it.
Don’t drop a subject because you know you’d fail a test — instead, read other half-understandable journals and textbooks to accumulate vocabulary, perspective, and context.
Notice that concepts make more sense when you revisit a topic, and note which topics provide keys to many others.
Continue until almost everything you encounter in Science and Nature makes sense as a contribution to a field you know something about.
Why is this effective?
You learned your native language by immersion, not by swallowing and regurgitating spoonfuls of grammar and vocabulary. With comprehension of words and the unstructured curriculum of life came what we call “common sense”.

The aim of what I’ve described is to learn an expanded language and to develop what amounts to common sense, but about an uncommonly broad slice of the world. Immersion and gradual comprehension work, and I don’t know of any other way."

The general thrust of this and his previous article seem interesting and useful to me, even with in one subject. It is not so hard to get a grasp of the structure of related areas or possible areas which may have a bearing on the problems one is interested in. Sometimes, one may be even able to contribute to these areas if one has an understanding of the general structure and not the worn-out techniques. I think that it avoids narrow specialization and some later thinking type of approaches. I think that I followed this type of approach without actually articulating and has been useful in my research.

Somewhat related article Tenure and the Future of the University. Summary (need subscription for the full artcle):
"The fundamental rationale for the tenure system has been to promote the long-term development of new ideas and to challenge students' thinking. Proponents argued more than 60 years ago that tenure is needed to provide faculty the freedom to pursue long-term risky research agendas and to challenge conventional wisdom (1). Those arguments are still being made today (2) and are still valid. However, a 30-year trend toward privatization is creating a pseudo–market environment within public universities that marginalizes the tenure system. A pseudo–market environment is one in which no actual market is possible, but market-like mechanisms (such as benchmarking and rankings based on research dollars, student evaluations, or similar attributes) are used to approximate a market."
I think that the tenure system worked fairly well in USA. Howit works in each country may depend on the culture and institutions.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Zooming for science

From Billion-Pixel Pictures Allow Ultra-Zooming for Science:

"GigaPan "is not quite being there, but it's coming close," Tuckey said.

Tuckey also hopes to use GigaPan to enlist virtual volunteers.

For example, he said, "to manage [our grassland habitat] successfully, we have to know the numbers and density of different wildflowers, and we have to keep monitoring, to see the impact we're having with grazing or cutting."

GigaPan images could help many hands make light work of these types of environmental-monitoring tasks, whether at threatened coral reefs, in vanishing rain forests, or on Durlston's grasslands.

"With a great shot of a meadow, people could actually zoom in and count the numbers and varieties of different wildflowers," Tuckey said.

"If we make these astonishing images available on the Web, people could potentially log on at home and do actual research. And it doesn't matter if they are in Birmingham or Singapore." "


3 Quarks Daily Announces Four Annual Blog Prizes: The Quarks!. I read a fair number of posts from science blogs but cannot remember any particular post that I would like to recommend; in any case I do not like prizes. Usually, those who get prizes do not need them and those who hanker for prizes do not deserve them. As Brian Switek says in The dangerous link between science and hype:
"Science proceeds through discovery and debate, and hypotheses do not become accepted by flooding the media with press releases."
(via the excellent blog Gene Expression of Rajib)
There are many excellent blogs, some by professional writers, but there seems to be news of breathtaking discoveries from some fmri scans and/or experiments on a few students and such almost every day both from universities and bloggers. Some like Max Liberman of Language Log and Andrew Gellman( to bring some sobriety to the discussions. However, the particular post in 3qurksdaily may be useful in giving list of some interesting posts on science.
P.S. The list HERE.

Indian students in Melbourne

Manmohan raises attacks on students with Rudd . Some tipsTips: How not to be attacked in Australia.
I am not surprised and had similar but less severe experiences when we arrived in 1988. After wandering around several countries, I was eager to own a house and do some gardening. Melbourne has wide tree lined streets, houses with large yards and lots of parks and open spaces. We found a house on a plot of over 900 square metres, on a bus route between two universities. I enquired about the suitability with a few in our dept. and there were no comments. After we moved to the house, we found that many in the neighbourhood were on dole and lots of the houses were the so called 'commision housing' owned by the government and rented to those on dole or low income. There were many youngsters idle and some not going to school and they would wander around in groups having fun harassing whomever they could. Our children were easy targers and epithets like 'black dogs', 'blackies' and 'abos' were common. There were even graffiti like 'black c...s' in front of the house. And thefts. Once I got into a shoving match with one of the kids but it got worse when he came in a group. The police said that there was not much point complaining since the kids would at the most get a rap on their wrists. Colleagues did not want to seem hear unpleasant things about their country. Finally, we sold the house at a considerable loss and moved to another area. Ther was very little trouble later on and there seemed to be some general improvement due to news paper campaign against racial sledging of aborinal athletes. It did not seem to have a lasting effect on the children who grew up here and most of them did well in school and college and usually got jobs before the locals.
Now with many foreign students visible in poor areas, there is an increase in this mindless fun by local youngsters. Some of the advice given in the Rediff piece seems sensible.

P.S. One of the results of my Australian experiance is to try to help with some of the 'dalit' organizations in India working in microfinance and education. There also seem to be many muslim groups isolated and virtually untouched by prosperity. A friend in Hyderabad tells me of a muslim area and a family in which only the mother or the daughter can go out since they have only good set of clothes to wear.

P.P.S. From Trujillo remarks may have legs: ex-Westpac boss:

"This week's accusation from the former Telstra boss Sol Trujillo that Australia is "backward and racist" has provoked a defensive reaction from many Australians.

But there are some who believe that rather than sour grapes, Sol Trujillo might have a point."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Post Poll studies of Indian elections

Shivam's post on UP elections UP’s Dalits remind Mayawati: Democracy is a beautiful thing. In a later post he
recommends looking at the CSDS=Lokniti post poll Study.
The studies are probably preliminary and might have to be studied state by state and region by region.(links via

Mourning Nehru in Pakistan

Mourning Nehru in Pakistan via Sundeep Dougal's blog:
"Asrar Ahmed, a Pakistani colleague, asked me whether something worthwhile would come out of the Nehru-Ayub talks. With my unfailing knack for stressing the obvious, I replied that it all depended on how much time Nehru had. Whereupon Asrar and others exclaimed in unison, “May Allah prolong his life”. As if on cue, Hafeez Jullundari — the nearest thing Pakistan had to the poet laureate as well as a sort of minister-in-waiting during the Sheikh’s stay — stalked up to our table and sat down. Wagging his finger, he told me: “Inder Malhotra, you people have had a long ride feeling superior to us because you were lucky to have Nehru. Our misfortune was that after the early deaths of Jinnah and Liaquat, all our leaders were useless. Now Nehru is about to go. You will be down to our level, and then we will see”. All the Pakistanis around the table were horrified. They started remonstrating with the renowned poet but their attempt was drowned in the sudden flurry and noise. Sheikh Sahib had come down and everyone was being directed to his or her vehicle.

I do not know whether Murree’s Lintot restaurant still exists. On that day, however, it served us excellent breakfast in its balcony. It was there that the news of Nehru’s illness caught up with us. He died at the precise moment when the Sheikh set foot in Muzaffarabad. The thought uppermost in my mind was that the capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir was not the best place to to be in at the time of Nehru’s passing. But what followed stunned me.

The huge crowd that had assembled to welcome Sheikh Abdullah instantly turned into a mourning mass. Every man, woman and child, hands raised skywards, was praying for Nehru. Some of them were crying. No one touched the elaborate wazwan laid out. Suddenly, there was commotion at a short distance. A tall man was shouting my name, beating his head with both his hands and cursing his “black tongue”. It was Hafeez Jullundari. As he apologised to me profusely, Sheikh Sahib arrived to calm him. Instead, the two embraced each other and sobbed.

After the dinner trays were cleared, most of us got busy writing our dispatches. The airhostess came, sat down in the empty seat next to me, and asked if she could read what I was typing. When, while reading my homage to the iconic leader for The Statesman, my paper then, she reached my brief reference to the Pakistani reaction to his death, she broke down. Rushing to the washroom, she came back composed, and said: “Sir, I am sure we cannot be enemies for ever”. I told her that these were exactly the words Nehru had used seven years earlier."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book recommendations from a linguist

Scientists' Nightstand: Derek Bickerton from American Scientist. A site about one of the recommendations Niche Construction.

Some old telugu songs back on youtube

Due to some alleged copyright problems, they keep disappearing but some of my favourites are back:
vacchindoyi samkranti, both Ghantasala and M.S.Ramarao are among the singers, snatches of music reminds me Barsaat music (Palleturu around 1952, and Barsaat 1949?).
aa manasulona aa choopulona; the sort of houses in which I grew up.
cheyetti jaigottu telugoda, a rousing (andhra) nationalist song written by Vemulapalli Srikrishna, later communisi MLA from Mangalagiri.
MELUKO VENKATA RAMANA ; some sort of lullaby.
kulamulo emundira ; Rajanala lights up the screen. Apparently, the Kannada version is still very popular.
chigurakulalo chilakamma; very nice lyrics and clearly Pendyala's music.

sites have some video songs and movies.
P.S. Telugu articles by K. Rohiniprasad on Indian Music. A few are on film music.
Shaji Chennai has also some nicearticles on film music.
The following post has somereferences to cross cultural influences even on classical south indian music:
See in particular the passage:
"1. Surprizingly no one mentioned about the very early entry of "western
instruments" into India and Indian classical music. I thought that a
person like UVR, who is well acquainted with Carnatic classical music
would refer to Dikshitar brothers (Muttuswami & Baluswami), their early
exposure to British bands at Fort St. George, Baluswamy's interest in
Violin (and how this instrument got so popularized even replacing veeNa
as accomp. instrument in concerts), paTnam subrahmaNya ayyar's
compositions like "raghuvaMSa sudhaaMbudhi chandrasi" (raaga:
kadanakutoohalam), or Tyaagayya's "SaraSara samaraika" (raaga:
kuntalavaraaLi), etc. etc."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Binayak Sen gets bail

From Civil rights activist Binayak sen gets bail :
"The Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to civil rights activist Binayak sen, who has been lodged in a Raipur jail for over two years under unproven charges of links with Maoists in Chhattisgarh.

The bail was granted by a vacation bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Deepak Verma.

Former law minister Shanti Bhushan, appearing for Sen, had earlier pleaded to the court to accord an urgent hearing to Sen's bail plea in view of his precarious health condition.

A bench of Justice DK Jain and Justice BS Reddy had on May 4 issued notice to the Chhattisgarh government on Sen's bail plea.

While seeking its reply, the bench had also ordered the state government to provide him the "best possible medical aid" for the heart ailment he has been suffering from.

The Chhattisgarh government has booked Sen, the vice president of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) under the stringent anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, for his alleged links with Maoists.

He was arrested on May 14, 2007 and accused of acting as a courier for an alleged Maoist lodged in jail.

On May 4, former law minister Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Sen, had sought bail for him pleading that "the case against him has already been demolished in the trial court as all the material witnesses in the case have been examined" and none of them have deposed against him.

Jethmalani had contended that despite the case against Sen having been demolished, the Chhattisgarh High Court was not entertaining his bail plea."


Asish Nandy in The Hour Of The Untamed Cosmopolitan:
"No overriding consideration drove the voting across the country. Diverse configurations in diverse places determined the fate of different candidates and parties. Different regions had different logic even within a given state. Still, underlying the diversity there were some common themes.
There are other reasons why it would be premature to read this election as a post-Mandal era. In India, except in very small, modern, urban pockets, the unit of mobility is not the individual; the unit of mobility is caste. The lowest common denominator for any party decision on their choice of candidates is caste — all other considerations of aptitude and intention come after that. In fact, we cannot reach a post- Mandal era of politics yet because entering politics from the periphery is still a very crucial instrument in Indian politics.

Some of the parties lay less emphasis on it because their constituencies have arrived in the mainstream. The Marathas, Patels, Vokkaligas, Lingayats, Jats. Yadavs too talk less about it because they have just arrived. Perhaps, with Nitish Kumar, Kurmis too will feel more secure. But there are still hundreds of communities who are not well represented. Now that the big communities have organised themselves and reaped the benefits, the smaller ones want a slice of the pie. Just as the Kammas emerged in the 1970s and 1980s through NTR, the Kapus have emerged this election through Chiranjeevi. These are much smaller communities. Earlier, they would have voted under larger umbrellas. Now they think they can carve out a smaller, more targeted domain or space in the political arena.

Recently, the Gujjars began to lobby violently for Scheduled Tribe status — as if a mere Parliamentary decree can turn a group into a tribe. This sort of misuse, battles for quotas, unreasonable demands for affirmative action, and other forms of vote bank wheeling-dealing will continue to happen. But in the long run, all of this will be good for India.

As representations in the system give different communities larger space, everybody’s stake in the democratic system will increase. In the long run, there will be so many crosscutting configurations, the problem will take care of itself. There is a big difference between caste groups angling for 35 or 40 Lok Sabha seats like Mulayam or Lalu, and a caste group contesting for eight or ten. Chiranjeevi, for instance, just has four or five seats. The scale is going down because we have already accommodated a lot of people. The next generation will not face this. They will inherit a much more inclusive world."

From The Hindu Iran, Pakistan ink gas pipeline deal :
"IRNA said the 2,700-km pipeline would transfer Iranian gas to India, through Pakistan. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency earlier reported that the text of the agreement included an article that would allow India to join the project at an appropriate time."

From PAKISTAN: Sikhs flee Swat, seek refuge in shrine :
"Sundar Singh, a medical technician at Pakistan Telecommunication Company, said this was his family’s second migration. “We moved out of Swat in January, but when the peace deal was signed between the Taliban and the government [on 16 February], we moved back to Swat,” he said."

Amitav Kumar on Belonging:
"...I find myself thinking that I belong not to India or to the United States but to the academy. I realize that I’m a sad provincial; for years, I’ve been living in a place called the English Department."

From Chapati Mystery: Action for Progressive Pakistan apologize to Bangladesh Regarding 1971 .

From the above blog: on Pakistani identity Pakistan Day 2009 and Will Pakistan Become a Theocracy?. Generally interesting blog with interesting links to articles on the subcontinent and history books. Some heated discussions in the recent weeks and I do not understand many of the posts with excerpts as in Strangers in the Night:
"In the aftermath of Mumbai attacks, the world has found yet another reason to doubt the sustainability of Pakistan, doubt the intentions of the people and the State, doubt their commitment to being a peaceful global citizens. These doubts, those proclamations, some of the harsh denouncements of the Indian media were heard loudly and clearly across Pakistan. The bellicosity - apparent even in the flyer for this panel - generated its own predictable response. The military, which had finally lost all credence, is slowly coming back in business. It is the protector. It is the sustainer of the national myths.

The Pakistanis are also attuned to the silences. They note that in the teleology of modern terror - NYC, Madrid, London, and now Mumbai - there is no mention of Lahore and Islamabad. The September 20th blast at the Marriott, Islamabad is a clear precursor to the tragedy at Taj, Mumbai. It, too, was a site where the local elite gathered for daily mingling. It, too, catered to the foreign visitors. It, too, was a sign of Pakistan’s growing economy. Yet, while NYC and Mumbai are forever linked, the victims of Islamabad and Lahore find themselves on the other side of history."

From an old post of Qalandar who seems to have relatives in both India and Pakistan On The Historical Relationship Between Muslim Religiosity and Political Separatism :
"As an aside, and on the subject of overlapping identities, consider the Meo of Rajasthan. During the partition violence, the Meo were among the worst affected communities, and by some estimates 200,000-300,000 were driven away from their ancestral homelands (now borderlands) in India as “Muslims.” However, in many instances, when the Meo appeared on the Pakistani side they were attacked by Muslim League-led mobs too, for being “Hindus”! The Meo's biggest problem, alas, was that they didn't “fit” with the (supposedly) liberal, modern conception of what it meant to have an identity that the state—perhaps most nation-states, but a state like Pakistan even more so, given its founding ideology—simply could not acknowledge without provoking a philosophical crisis within itself. By 1957, most of the Meo had returned to India."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cash cows

From French Turn to 'Cash Cows' as Alternative Investments:
" The French, known for their mistrust of banks, are not just stuffing money into mattresses in these anxious days of recession and minuscule interest rates. They are also putting their cash into cows.

There are about 37,000 cows under contract at 880 farms.

An investment in cows can bring a 4 to 5 percent return a year based on the sale of their offspring. For Mr. Durand, the arrangement frees up capital for improvements to his small dairy farm.

For Pierre Marguerit, 60, cows make a safe, secure investment, allowing for long-term growth from a renewable resource. The cow contracts are hardly new, but go back to Richard the Lionheart; the French word for livestock, “cheptel,” is the root for “capital.”"
Coming from a rural farming family, I have a weakness for this kind of schemes. I wonder whether this kind of investment can be combined with microfinance.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Contrasting views on Indian elections

Vijay Prashad in Counter Punch The Indian Elections: a Game Changer
India KnoledgeWharton After the Elections: What's Next on India's Economic Agenda?.
Some detailed and careful analysis from Qalandar.
And ongoing analysis in Sundeep Dougal's Outlook blog. Some surprises: in the new Lok Saba"There are 390 graduates and above, with 23 doctorates and 130 Post graduates" "But there are still 153 MPs with criminal charges, 74 of which are serious."
P.s. (May 25th)The Hour Of The Untamed Cosmopolitan by Ashish Nandy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Soliciting for science research

From Public donations to lift research :
"Researchers looking for a little extra money to explore an idea may soon have a new funding 'agency' to ask for help: the masses. A Florida researcher has launched a project designed both to solicit public donations for individual research programmes and to inspire public interest in science and engineering.

The 'SciFlies' project ( will profile scientists from a range of disciplines and the new ideas they want to pursue, or ways in which they would like to expand their current research programme. Website visitors will be able to donate any amount to support the projects they find most interesting or worthwhile."

News of a similar project in the comments.

Indian election discussions

Qalandar whose post Mellow on Indian elections was quoted before has further posts on A.P.ANDHRA PRADESH: Notes on the 2009 Elections and U.P. Qalandar’s pieces on Election-2009 . I came across Qalandar's comments in Chapati Mystery and looked up his site.

See also Best readings on the election results from Ajay Shah.

It is tempting to think that voters have become more rational but the calculus of elections seems to vary from state to state. Meanwhile Ahmad Rashid in Pakistan on the Brink warns:
"What has shocked the world is not just the spread of the Taliban forces southward, but the lack of the government's will and commitment to oppose them and the army's lack of a counterinsurgency strategy. This disarray makes them all the more vulnerable in view of the apparent cohesiveness of the Taliban's tactics and strategy. Although the group has no single acknowledged leader, it has formed alliances with around forty different extremist groups, some of them with no previous direct connection to the Taliban. Moreover, the Afghan Taliban have become a model for the entire region. The Afghan Taliban of the 1990s have morphed into the Pakistani Taliban and the Central Asian Taliban and it may be only a question of time before we see the Indian Taliban."

P.S. Qalandar gives these two links for comparing 2004, 2009 vote shares of different parties.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Books on microfinance?

I started looking for books on microfinance after a request from a friend. I came across one through Chris Blattman's blog: Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day .
An interview with one of the authors Q and A with Daryl Collins.
Wikipedia entry on another of the authors and links to some reviews Jonathan Morduch.
Jonathan Morduch'sHomepage and NYU page.
Suggestions of any other books are welcome.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jayaprakash Narayan of Lok Satta wins from Kukatpalli

Here is a first video from an interview with him Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan on Politics and Governance-1.

What happened to vote banks?

Zoya Hasan says in Disenchantment Of The Dispossessed :
"This verdict (from UP) has the first intimations of a shift away from identity politics. In this sense, the UP results could be read as a bellwether of post-identity politics taking shape in regions beyond it. But there is a challenge here that is easy to identify though difficult to address in the short term: How to combine economic development and a workable social welfare system with pluralism and equal respect."
From BBCVoters opt for middle path :
"The victory is emphatic and with the caste-based regional parties suffering setbacks in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India's political landscape suddenly does not look so deeply fractured."
P.S. Many more links to Indian election resultsand reactions at Nanopolitan.
See also Qalander. Some excerpts from qalander's post:
"In the end, my (tentative) inclination is to read the election results as the reward for a moderation that was not just ideological as temperamental: the principal Congress leaders generally seemed relatively calm and unruffled over the course of the campaign, as indeed they had appeared over the preceding five years. Thus, while both major parties spoke of stability, the likes of Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, seemed to exude it -- remarkably, the party didn't lose its poise even in the aftermath of Mumbai attack last year (undoubtedly aided by the fact that the urban public's disgust with the status quo was general vis-a-vis all politicians, as opposed to specific to the Congress).
The second point I'd like to make concerns India's rural voters, specifically, the populist measures touted by the Congress/UPA. For the second national election in a row, the Congress has devoted more attention to the economic concerns of rural Indians than the BJP has -- and has reaped the rewards. This isn't to say that the Congress' commitment to economic liberalization is any more or less than the BJP's (there isn't much to choose between the parties on that front these days), but that the Congress is more comfortable with the realization that public support for the sort of cautious, fits-and-starts liberalization India has seen since 1991, will not endure if the rural poor do not see some immediate benefits from the political dispensations championing that liberalization. To the extent the BJP has tried to take small town and rural voters along, it has tried to do so by means of cultural issues (such as the Babri mosque/Ramjanambhoomi temple movement). Increasingly, however, that sort of bi-polar mobilization, of a Hindu identity in opposition to a Muslim other imagined to be receiving preferential treatment from the Indian state, has proven difficult in the seat-rich states of the Hindi heartland, as caste-based parties have undermined the plausibility of the BJP's narrative. The Congress has shown signs of picking up the rural baton on economic grounds, and so far appears to have profited as a result.
Perhaps the two points are not unrelated: Shekhar Gupta (editor of the Indian Express) summed it up well when he eschewed the grand narratives of "secularism" and "development" in favor of an explanation that the Indian electorate has, over the past few years, tended to vote for parties who run campaigns addressing the public's aspirations, not its resentments. While the recent history of India hardly affords room for complacency -- it was less than a year ago that large-scale communal violence in Orissa killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands; and 2008 was the worst year on record as far as terrorism was concerned, with serial blasts in cities across the country -- the political atmosphere does seem a shade less shrill than it used to be in the decade leading up to the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 and beyond. I wouldn't ascribe any permanence to this softening of the edges, nor a tendency toward ever-increasing moderation, but Gupta's comment does capture the tenor of the moment. Given where the country has been in the recent past, and where it could easily go, I'll chalk that up as a victory of sorts."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bill Easterley likes this speech

by Hillary Clinton Remarks at the New York University Commencement Ceremony (BREAKING NEWS: Nation’s senior diplomat talks sense, inspires, is not babbling nonsense). Excerpts:
"But they can no longer be seen just as government-to-government. There is a time and an opportunity, and with the new technologies available, for us to be citizen diplomats, citizen activists, to solve problems one by one that will give in to hard work, patience, and persistence, and will then aggregate to the solutions we seek.
But I know that you don’t have to wait for us to create a new program. When you go home today, go online and find the website called Kiva, K-i-v-a, where you can help someone like San Ma, a mother in Vietnam who is seeking a microcredit loan to buy rice seed and fertilizer for her family farm; or log on to Heifer International’s site, and for less than the cost of a dinner out, you can donate a flock of geese to a hungry family in Asia or Africa; or help Wangari Mathai’s Green Belt movement in planting trees and offsetting carbon emissions and empowering women in Africa.

Now, supporting these projects and others like them doesn't require a lot of time or money. But for the people you help and the planet you protect, your participation can be not just a game changer, but a life changer. Global service also means promoting good governance. We need informed citizens, both here at home and around the world, to hold their governments accountable for getting results and finding solutions."
She also says "we are increasing funding for Gilman scholarships by more than 40 percent" and "I am committed to streamline the visa process – (applause) – particularly for science and technology students so that even more qualified students will come to our campuses in the future."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Some interesting articles

Benjamin Friedman reviews'Animal Spirits' in The Failure of the Economy & the Economists.
Richard C. Lewontin reviews in Why Darwin? several Darwin Books and also mentions some of the background:
"The Darwin-Wallace explanation of evolution, the theory of natural selection, is based on three principles:

1) Individuals in a population differ from each other in the form of particular characteristics (the principle of variation).
2) Offspring resemble their parents more than they resemble unrelated individuals (the principle of heritability).
3) The resources necessary for life and reproduction are limited. Individuals with different characteristics differ in their ability to acquire those resources and thus to survive and leave offspring in the next generations (the principle of natural selection).
It seems amazing that two naturalists could independently arrive at the same articulated theory of evolution from a consideration of the characteristics of some species of organisms in nature, their geographic distribution, and their similarities to other species. This amazement becomes considerably tempered, however, when one considers the social consciousness and economic milieu in which the theory arose, a milieu marked by the rise of competitive industrial capitalism in which individuals rose in the social hierarchy based, presumably, on their greater entrepreneurial fitness."

Jonah Lehrer on the secret of self-control in Don’t!The secret of self-control. Sample passage:
"Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is leading the program. She first grew interested in the subject after working as a high-school math teacher. “For the most part, it was an incredibly frustrating experience,” she says. “I gradually became convinced that trying to teach a teen-ager algebra when they don’t have self-control is a pretty futile exercise.” And so, at the age of thirty-two, Duckworth decided to become a psychologist. One of her main research projects looked at the relationship between self-control and grade-point average. She found that the ability to delay gratification—eighth graders were given a choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week—was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q. She said that her study shows that “intelligence is really important, but it’s still not as important as self-control.”"
More discussion in Lehrer's blog The Secret of Self-Control.

Malcom GladwellHow David Beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules.

Jonah Lehrer onHow creativity springs from a choreographed set of mental events.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The 24th sun cycle

Despite Maya warnings, the next sun cycle will be relatively mild says this report:Sun entering weakest cycle since 1928 .
And I seem to be missing most of the 100 Awesome Blogs By Some of the World’s Smartest People.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Bringing culture to the laboratory

From Birds Raised In Complete Isolation Evolve 'Normal' Species Song Over Generations:
"Biologists have discovered that zebra finches raised in isolation will, over several generations, produce a song similar to that sung by the species in the wild. The experiment provides new insights into how genetic background, learning abilities and environmental variation might influence how birds evolve "song culture" -- and provides some pointers to how human languages may evolve.
"What is remarkable about this result is that even though we started out with an isolated bird that had never heard the wild-type, cultured song, that's what we ended up with after generations," explains Mitra. "So in a sense, the cultured song was already there in the genome of the bird. It just took multiple generations for it to be shaped and come about."
This work, the scientists maintain, now provides a unified experimental framework for researchers studying topics as diverse as cultural evolution, neuroethology (biology of song development) and quantitative genetics. "We've provided a starting point to explore the biology of cultural transmission in the laboratory," says Mitra."
P.S. more discussion in Neurophilosophy and Culture evolving & converging due to genes.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Rahul Siddharthan on Indus script

Rahul Siddharthan has a long post Indus:What did Rao et al. really do? with plenty of discussion, comments and links. One of the comments links to Boring No More, a Trade-Savvy Indus Emerges and other articles of Andrew Lawler all of which I missed. Abstract of the article (needs subscrption):
"Long in the shadow of its sister civilizations to the west, the Indus is emerging as the powerhouse of commerce and technology in the 3rd millennium B.C.E. But political and economic troubles dog archaeologists' efforts to understand what made this vast society tick."
Rahul's post and the comments seem worth going through a few times.
P.S. A follow up post by RahulMore Indus thoughts and links
and a recent article by I. Mahadevan The Indus ‘non-script’ is a non-issue

Some Telugu related links

A nice article on film singer A.M. Raja by J.K. Mohana Rao and Paruchuri Sreenivas. It has several downloadable songs in Telugu and Tamil; it seems A.M. Raja sang more songs in Tamil films than Telugu films. Here is apage of some of Raja's Telugu film songs from
oltelugusongs. Some of my favourites, eventhiugh they are not his best, are: chEyi chEyi kalupa rAvE, vennela pamdiri lOna. jAmi cheTTu mIdanunna jAti rAmachiluka possibly because the lyricsarein simple spoken Telugu. Paruchuri links to an AIR program of Savitri. There are some songs but more interesting to me are Savitri's conversationsabout her background and work.
The Seed transcriptUnlocking the Secrets and Powers of the Brain has a descrption of some of the views of Daniel Levitin, the author 'This is your Brain on Music':
"When a song comes on the radio that you haven’t heard since high school, you’re right there with it. You’re singing along. You remember all the nuances. The big story of memory revealed by music is that you tend to remember those things that you care about or that you have some deep emotional connection with. It can be a positive emotion, it can be negative, but there appear to be neurochemical tags associated with memories that are highly emotional. Those are the ones that get most accurately recorded in your memory and the ones that are easiest to draw out."

P.S. From the comments section in the article about A.M. Raja, there are interesting stories (from Rohiniprasad Kadavatiganti) on how A.M. Raja was chosen sing in the films 'vipranarayana' and 'missamma'. Apparently, around that time 'vipranarayana' was made Ghantasala used to smoke cigars and those days only one mike was used when recording duets. The female lead Bhanumati seems to have raised some objections. For the second film, the reasons seem to be due to prior contractual differences. In any case, A.M. Raja did a great job in both the films. I have also heard from a grandchild of Ghantasala that Ghantasala had two different families and a daughter from the second family is a bharatanatyam dancer.