Saturday, August 29, 2009

Crowd behaviour in emergencies

From Emergencies inspire crowd cooperation, not panic (via Mind Hacks
"Crowd plus emergency equals mass panic, or so urban myths and Hollywood films would have us believe. The reality, recognised by social psychology for some time, is that people in crowds often behave in remarkably cooperative and selfless ways. A new study by John Drury and colleagues suggests that this kind of collaborative behaviour emerges when people in a crowd acquire a shared identity. And contrary to the "mass panic" perspective, an emergency can be the very catalyst that brings people together."
There are links to John Drury's papers as well as a recent book "A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL:The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster" by Rebecca Solnit reviewd here: The Better Angels of Our Nature. Excerpt from the review:
"Her accounts of these five events are so stirring that her book is worth reading for its storytelling alone.

But what makes it even more fascinating is Solnit's demonstration that disasters give rise to small, temporary utopias in which the best of human nature emerges and a remarkable spirit of generosity and cooperation takes over. "Disaster," she writes, "along with moments of social upheaval, is when the shackles of conventional belief and role fall away and the possibilities open up." People suffering unimaginable misfortune often revert not to savagery but to an almost beatific selflessness, comforting themselves in extremis by aiding others. Solnit cites many examples of those who remember a disaster as, paradoxically, one of the great moments of their lives. The reaction is similar to that of some who recall the Great Depression as a time of spiritual and social richness."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ted Kennedy Tributes

An American Greek by Bernard-Henri Levy (via Amitava Kumar)
From Silliman's Blog (via a comment from Accidental Blogger)
"In my job at the Committee for Prisoner Humanity & Justice, I managed to arrange an out-of-state parole plan for Lovedahl through the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, but I still had to persuade the North Carolina political establishment, and especially that pol, that putting Lovedahl on the streets 2,500 miles from home wasn’t going to come back to haunt him. There was only one person I knew who might be able to accomplish this, so I called Ted Kennedy’s office in Massachusetts. Without even once asking “What’s in it for me?” Kennedy made the call, and Lovedahl got his parole. That might have been the end of the story but Lovedahl broke parole – after 20 years in prison, he found Delancey Street’s restrictions hard to take – & headed to Nevada, where he was arrested as a parole violator. An extradition hearing was held, but it was easy for the Wabash County public defender to show that Lovedahl should never have been convicted in the first place. Free so long as he remained in Nevada, Lovedahl stayed there the rest of his life.

I’ve always wondered just how many times over 46 years in the U.S. Senate Kennedy made those kinds of phone calls. He was not only the one senator in 1973 who might have made that gesture, he was also the only one who could have gotten that result. I fear that the same may have been true as recently as last week."

The many sides of Ted Kennedy (from
" Newt Gingrich, Congressman and Speaker of the House (1995-1999). "Clever tactician"

Every conservative should take a lesson from the liberals in the uses of deliberate, sustained, permanent offense. Ever since they became a majority in 1930, the liberals have learned to keep taking as much as they can get in the way of legislation every day. A model for this is Ted Kennedy. Truth to tell, I have grown to respect the way he handles the process. You may not like him or his politics, but it is hard not to take your hat off to the steady, tough-minded, straightforward way he pushes for what he wants. As soon as we Republicans became the majority in the Senate, Kennedy realized he needed allies on the Republican side and began reaching out to them. He never quits looking for new opportunities to expand the government, and he is remarkably skilled at getting Republicans to sign on to bills with him. We on our side are as yet not nearly as tenacious, as firm, as clear about our ends, nor as clever in our tactics as the good senator; and any would-be conservative legislative leader could learn a lot about permanently being on offense by studying his ability to get hit, attacked, dismissed, and smilingly keep moving forward. (Washington, D.C., early 1990s)"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Winter gardening

in Melbourne has not been easy with cold and rain. Silverbeet grew like a weed and provided much food for us and our friends. Chillies survided and kept yielding until now but there may be a gap of couple of months before we have garden chillies again. Coriander and lettuce did OK, particularly in pots, possibly because the potting mix was freah. Spinach and capsicum did not do too well. May be they will do better in spring. It is time to finish weeding, pruning, mulching and start on the main vegetables for summer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Two posts in Indian films

'kanTi chooputO champEsta by Kuffir to lots of links to his and others' earlier articles. Excerpt:
"the faction genre isn't actually unique to the erroneously classified telugu cinema- the line i quoted was from the remake of an original tamil movie (one of those movies which glorify the lives of rural gounder-thevar-naicker-etc tyrants). telugu cinema is essentially the handiwork of kammas, reddies and brahmins with significant contributions from rajus, kapus (some sub-castes) and velamas. mostly brahminized intermediate castes. all of them together make up not more than 20% of the state's population. what we call telugu cinema is a product of their kanTichoopu, or vision or nazariya. and there's definitely nothing pan-telugu about it. i've talked about whose nazariya is reflected in hindi cinema in this post- who speaks through so-called tamil, bengali, malayalam etc cinema?"

and Utpal Dutt on theatre and film by Chandrahas Chowdary. Excerpt:
"“I believe any discussion on films in semi-colonial or newly independent countries must start from the illiteracy, poverty and cultural starvation of the masses,” wrote the great stalwart of Indian theatre and film Utpal Dutt in an essay in 1979. “It seems blasphemous to engage in comfortable talk about the aesthetics of cinema in a country where the majority starves.” What can we say about this clearly Marxist aesthetic? Is it true? Was it more relevant thirty years ago than it is now? Shouldn’t art be seen as a site, a force, independent of social and economic realities? Are artworks themselves a product of class and power interests, or can they be seen as something more ambiguous and capacious, combating propaganda as often as complicit with it?"

Possibly related: this comment by an anon. in IIT faculty go to war :
"...what IITians are asking not exactly “more”, but what they actually deserve. Obviously they compare the salaries with that of salaries from where they came and joined in IITs ( premier institutes of abroad, industries )."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

National innovations?

After seeing this link in Nanopolitan Pluck an innovation, I looked up Honybee network since this seemed to be the type of problem they would be interested in. From this post of about an year ago India’s National Innovation Foundation and Honeybee Network By rahulbrown, they seem to be hamstrung. Anil Gupta says in the comments:
"much of your criticism is valid and i can only say that if the issue was only dissemination, then you have done a good job of it. But then visit NIF and find out the stress under which a small team works days and night with highly limited resources,m static for last eight years( though in the same period, the number has swelled to more than hundred thousand practices, ideas, traditional knowledge practices, and of course innovations from over 545 districts ). May be you can be a valuable part of the solution rather than just finding out why much could not be done.

If you read Honey Bee newsletter, you will find in the last several issues in which we have published similar innovations which are found in China, Africa, and India.

I do not know about the right or wrong management at nif, but it is open management and colleagues are welcome to critique it, contribute to improve it ( every criticism helps in improving it) and take it forward.

there is no other public institution which has scaled up the knowledge about creativity and innovation in the country with budget going down in real terms in the last eight years.

we are always looking for mavericks who believe in making thsi ocuntry more creative, comassionate and collaborative, may be you will also collaborate

all the best and keep critiquing because that indeed helps"
P.S. See also Invent a coconut-picking machine and scoop a million rupees according to which "In Thailand and Malaysia, pigtailed macaques, a type of monkey, are trained to gather the fruit. In parts of India, hydraulic platforms are used to lift harvesters.
However, Mr Balakrishnan said that previous experiments in Kerala — from the planting of dwarf varieties to the provision of long sticks to farmers to prod nuts from trees — had proven unsatisfactory. “We are looking for a device that will help people to pluck the nuts without having to climb; ideally, one that will allow even women and the elderly to harvest the nuts from the ground,” he said.

The competition opens officially at the end of September and will run for six months. If a workable solution is found, the Kerala state government will help the inventor to set up a factory to supply the winning device to the international coconut industry."
Tender coconuts are exported from Thailand to Australia and are sold for 2-3 Aus. dollars. I understand that coconuts in Queensland are not harvested and go waste.

William Calley says 'sorry'

according to BBC News Vietnam massacre soldier 'sorry' . The story of one who curtailed the massacre Hugh Thompson, Jr.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Micro loan defaults

Indian Development Blog discusses a recent WSJ article A Global Surge in Tiny Loans Spurs Credit Bubble in a Slum in Micro Credit Bubble? :
"Although it can be argued that the WSJ piece is not very well-researched and has instances of generalization and poor attribution, it is interesting to see that MFIs choose to underplay the mass-default that has occurred in Karnataka and dismiss the possibility that it could be partly due to faulty operational models."
I have been involved in one small project for a couple of years and so far there are no defaults. We work through a local pastor who knows the people, their needs and capabilities and has some standing in the community. Because, there are no defaults, the interest rate is low and sometimes used to finance other loans. Now it has reached two other places, in one of them through a local union. Such models may work on a small scale.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Telugu dictionaries

The following పత్రికా పదకోశం is currently available online.
A few years ago, while trying to find some dictionaries for technical terms in Telugu, I came across the name of Digavalli Venkata Siva Rao, through his grandson of the same name. Today I saw mention of his two books in the following openlibrary article:
Digavalli Venkata Siva Rao
Quote from the article:
"Another well recognized work of Siva rao was his book “Vyvahara kosamu” (1933) and his “ Sastra paribhasha”(1934). This is English-Telugu Dictionary of Scientific and Technical terms. Both these books were approved by Text Book Committee. This was a pioneering attempt to find suitable Telugu terms for technical and scientific words. There was no work of its kind before this book. Several Universities including Madras and Andhra approved its use for Telugu translations of technical and scientific literature. Several appreciations were received from many well known personalities including Vepa Rameswam and several others like Vembu Iyer[sessions judge] and the Hindu paper. Long before Glossary work was started by Andhra Govt, Siva rao did this ground breaking work. Above two books were combined and reprinted by J.Jetley of Asian Educational Services, New Delhi in
1991. "
The flavour of the dictionary can be seen at google books English-Telugu Dictionary Technical and Scientific
P.S. See also



Adhunika Vyavahara Kosam

శ్రీ శోధన

See also discussions at telugupadam

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chandra Latha's blog

I just noticed that the well-known writer చంద్ర లత (Chandra Latha)has started blogging: మడత పేజీ
P.S. A recent post has the video of a speechడా. విజయ్ గుప్తా గారి మాట of Modadugu Vijay Gupta, the recipient of the World Food Prize in 2005. Dr. Gupta is from Bapatla. Mathematicians Komaravolu Chandrasekharan and Madhav Nori come from the same place.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nice article on Annanamayya and Prajanatyamandali

జానపదం ఎవరిసొమ్ము? in Andhra Jyoti, vividha section.

Links, 18th August

Anil Gupta in :
"The concept of 'farmers first', which promotes farmer-led agricultural innovation, has been discussed for at least twenty years. But the idea of 'farm labourers first' is yet to emerge as a priority for any political party or scientific community. When political debates do feature farm labourers, they usually stress the right to manual work, rather than the need for better technologies or knowledge.

Agricultural and other rural labourers oftenhave more technical information about local resources and variations in their use than the farmers themselves because they often work on several farms. Yet they seldom have access to technological advances or research findings, and have few opportunities to capitalise on their knowledge.

New tools for farm labourers are extremely rare. In many parts of the world there have been no advances in the design of sickles in the past thirty years, for example. Even where new technologies doexist, they are rarely made widely available to farm labourers.

Communication is key

Even so, changing the way existing institutional technologies are used can both add value to labourers' knowledge and make them more productive.

In some cases, this simply involves improving occupational safety by communicating risk and providing safety norms. For example, despite the known environmental and health effects of agrochemicals, including pesticides, there are hardly any billboards in India showing how to use these chemicals safely. Only a fraction of one per cent of labourers in the country use safety gear when applying pesticides.

Similarly, millions of women working in paddy fields could avoid the widespread fungal infections caused by keeping their feet in water all day by simply applying castor oil or fungicidal creams — if only they knew about or had access to them. No Indian labourers under any employment program are given preventive information or materials — not even a bar of soap, even though 60 per cent of diseases are waterborne. Yet making herbal soap from non-edible tree oil seeds could generate considerable employment."
What about latrine cleaners?

From"Annoying Habits of College Professors" (circa 1935 to 1937)The timeless pet peeves of American university students:
"In many respects, teaching is a peculiar problem for university professors. Most professors active in research didn’t train to be teachers, but rather they got to the lecture stand by way of their accomplishments in the quiet eden of the laboratory. Because of this, there’s almost a paradoxical selection bias for introverted people as professors. It might sound good in principle, but when you first find yourself caught in those caffeine-fueled headlights of two hundred pairs of bleary freshman eyes at nine in the morning-- eyes which are expecting to see a performance as entertaining as it is enlightening -- this tends to be the perfect climate for annoying behaviors to “present” in an otherwise shy personality. Of course, some professors are perfectly oblivious and their annoyingness isn’t exactly climate-sensitive; some get even worse. But most learn as they go and the nervous tics eventually subside. "
I am not sure whether the problems subside. There is the additional problem . Many seem to have the attitude "I have a Ph.D. I know what I am doing" (so did some bloggers with Ph.D's in economics) even when teaching outside their areas of specialization and pushing for their own areas in the curriculam. making the syallabi lopsided and some of it irrelevant. I think that some compulory training in teaching is called for.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rational Fortune Telling?

Earlier Julie Rehmeyer has written about the work of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita:Mathematical Fortune-Telling :
"The New York University political science professor has developed a computerized game theory model that predicts the future of many business and political negotiations and also figures out ways to influence the outcome. Two independent evaluations, one by academics and one by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, have both shown that about 90 percent of his predictions have been accurate. Most recently, he has used his mathematical tools to offer approaches for handling the growing nuclear crisis with Iran." (mentioned in this blog :Synthesizing the wisdom of experts). Recently, there is a more detailed article in The New York Times:
Can Game Theory Predict When Iran Will Get the Bomb? (via 3quarksdaily). Some of it is a bit scary:
"For Bueno de Mesquita, the first prominent use of the model came in 1979, when the State Department was canvassing academics with expertise on India, including Bueno de Mesquita, to see how some parliamentary maneuverings would unfold. Bueno de Mesquita decided to use his first version of the software (which was, as he puts it, “barely working”) and his own knowledge of India to determine the power players and each of their numbers. Then the university’s mainframe computer worked on the data all night.

In the morning, Bueno de Mesquita said, he was astonished: the predicted victor was a seemingly minor figure, someone discounted by the experts. Bueno de Mesquita shared their opinion, he told me, but he accepted the computer’s verdict anyway. “So I called the person back at the State Department, and told him what I had concluded,” Bueno de Mesquita went on. “And there was a long, quiet period and some laughing. He said: ‘How did you arrive at that? Nobody’s saying that.’ So I told him I had a little computer model. He just guffawed. He said, ‘I wouldn’t repeat that if I were you.’ ”

Three months later, according to Bueno de Mesquita, his prediction turned out to be right....
Soon Bueno de Mesquita and Organski (who died in 1998) acquired clients ranging from Arthur Andersen to Union Carbide, which tapped them for advice on placating the Indian government after the Bhopal chemical spill. Today Bueno de Mesquita’s firm essentially consists of himself and Harry Roundell, a former banker at J. P. Morgan who met Bueno de Mesquita when Roundell hired him in 1995 to help the bank figure out how to push for new, favorable regulations in the U.S. They charge $50,000 and up to do a prediction and offer negotiating tips, and they take on 18 to 20 of these assignments a year. Beyond saying it was “a reasonable amount of money,” Bueno de Mesquita would not describe his income from the company."
However, there are doubts about his predictions:
"Stephen Walt, a Harvard professor of international affairs, says that Bueno de Mesquita’s nonprediction work — like his theory of the “political survival” of heads of state — make him a “respected scholar, deservedly so.” It’s the predictions that Walt doesn’t trust, because Bueno de Mesquita does not publish the actual computer code of his model. (Bueno de Mesquita cannot do so because his former firm owns the actual code, but he counters that he has outlined the math behind his model in enough academic papers and books for anyone to replicate something close to his work.) While Bueno de Mesquita has published many predictions in academic journals, the vast majority of his forecasts have been done in secret for corporate or government clients, where no independent academics can verify them. “We have no idea if he’s right 9 times out of 10, or 9 times out of a hundred, or 9 times out of a thousand,” Walt says. Walt also isn’t impressed by Stanley Feder’s C.I.A. study showing Bueno de Mesquita’s 90 percent hit rate. “It’s one midlevel C.I.A. bureaucrat saying, ‘This was a useful tool,’ ” Walt says. “It’s not like he’s got Brent Scowcroft saying, ‘Back in the Bush administration, we didn’t make a decision without consulting Bueno de Mesquita.’ ” Other academics point out that rational-actor theory has come under increasing criticism in recent years, as more evidence accumulates that people make many decisions irrationally."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

NEFA in the news again

On Indian Independence Day, this news from The Age: Tensions mount on Chinese-Indian border:
"Feathers were ruffled in Delhi last weekend when Google satellite maps showed the names of several towns in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in Mandarin and not English or Hindi, making it appear as if the region was part of China.

Hackles were also raised two months ago when Beijing objected to a $US60 million Asian Development Bank loan to India for a project in the territory which China claims.

The disputed border follows the ''McMahon Line'' drawn up in 1914 when the British ruled India. Beijing does not recognise this demarcation and claims a large portion of territory on the Indian side, including the town of Tawang, the birthplace of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

In June, the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, J. J. Singh, said up to 30,000 new troops would be deployed in the region. Also in June, a state-run newspaper in China accused India of ''unwise military moves'' along the border. The article said India's response was ''dangerous if it is based on a false anticipation that China will cave in''.

Professor Chellaney says the tensions are ominous. ''Any doubts that the Indian foreign policy establishment might have had about the threat posed by China have evaporated in recent months, that's for sure,'' he says."

This 1984 report by a US navy commander The China-India Border War gives the background and suggests that at one stage Chinese were agreeable to a settlement on the eastern front.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New direction for treating schizophrenia

From Traffic jam in brain causes schizophrenia symptoms:
"Schizophrenia waits silently until a seemingly normal child becomes a teenager or young adult. Then it swoops down and derails a young life.
Scientists have not understood what causes the severe mental disorder, which affects up to 1 percent of the population and results in hallucinations, memory loss and social withdrawal.

But new research from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has revealed how schizophrenia works in the brain and provided a fresh opportunity for treatment. In a new, genetically engineered mouse model, scientists have discovered the disease symptoms are triggered by a low level of a brain protein necessary for neurons to talk to one another.

A Traffic Jam in Brain

In human and mouse brains, kalirin is the brain protein needed to build the dense network of highways, called dendritic spines, which allow information to flow from one neuron to another. Northwestern scientists have found that without adequate kalirin, the frontal cortex of the brain of a person with schizophrenia only has a few narrow roads. The information from neurons gets jammed up like rush hour traffic on an interstate highway squeezed to a single lane.

"Without enough pathways, the information takes much longer to travel between neurons and much of it will never arrive," said Peter Penzes, assistant professor of physiology at the Feinberg School. .....

This discovery opens a new direction for treating the devastating cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia," Penzes said. "There is currently no treatment for that. It suggests that if you can stimulate and amplify the activity of the protein kalirin that remains in the brain, perhaps we can help the symptoms." "

Views of Ann Dunham Soetoro

From Dreams From His Mother :
"Based on these observations, Dr. Soetoro concluded that underdevelopment in these communities resulted from a scarcity of capital, the allocation of which was a matter of politics, not culture. Antipoverty programs that ignored this reality had the potential, perversely, of exacerbating inequality because they would only reinforce the power of elites. As she wrote in her dissertation, “many government programs inadvertently foster stratification by channeling resources through village officials,” who then used the money to further strengthen their own status.

These same observations also led her to start working with institutions like the Ford Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development to devise alternate pathways for reaching and working with the poor. She helped to pioneer microcredit programs that made small amounts of capital available to weavers, blacksmiths and other low-income groups — people who would otherwise have had no access to credit."

(via Kalyan Mukherjea)

Three-in-one oven

From Researchers trial 'three-in-one' oven:

"A new 'three-in-one' stove that provides electricity as well as acting as a cooker and refrigerator is undergoing field trials in Nepal and the United Kingdom.

Developed by scientists at the UK-based University of Nottingham, the stove harnesses 'thermoacoustic' energy.

A fire at one end of a gas-filled pipe creates a temperature gradient, which triggers sound waves as gas moves from hot to cold regions, similar to a 'singing' kettle. The mechanical energy of the sound waves is then converted into electrical energy.

A separate thermoacoustic engine works in reverse to generate a cooling effect for the refrigerator, and food can be cooked on the heat from the fire. All three processes can occur simultaneously.

The oven is more efficient than similar devices and can be built using local materials, as recent tests in Nepal using propane as the energy source showed.

The team are hoping to develop a generator that runs on biomass — wood or dung for example — and weighs between ten and 20 kilograms, at a cost of no more than £20 (US$33). They believe that communities in the Indian subcontinent, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America could benefit from the stove.

The project, known as SCORE (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity Supply) was launched two years ago."
P.S. Some similar earlier posts: Ravi Kuchimanchi , Gadgets for the poor ,'Glacier man' Chewang Norphel brings water to Ladakh,
Sugata Mitra.
Malapati Raja Sekhar has similar posts in Rural Development of India .

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rajesh Kochhar's blog

Vaguely following up a post in a Telugu blog Sainyam. I started wondering about Rigveda
here. Kalyan Mukherjea directed me to the work of an Indian astrophysicist Rajesh Kochhar. His website and blog are here. A chapter of a book by him and Jayant Narliker is posted there as well as a review of his book The Vedic People

Perepa P.C. Joshi

People in my age group are falling one by one and it may be time to pay some tribute to my old friend Perepa Joshi, named after Puran Chand Joshi. It was a friendship formed accidentally in Hyderabad. I was rebellious about university courses, was in and out of college, finally decided to complete a degree and landed in Hyderabad with very little money. Joshi's father Perepa Mrityumjayudu was shot dead in 48-49 in Telangana struggle ans some of his colleagues like Pucchalapalli Sundarayya, Chandra Rajeswara Rao who felt grateful that he did not reveal their whereabouts took interest in Joshi's welfare and started helping with his education. We ended up in the same college and rented a triangular room which we shared with a fellow student. We duly completed our degrees and went our separate ways. Once in a while I would try to look him up in Hyderabad. On one such occasion I found that he was already married and living with his children in a small room made under a stair case. Later I heard that he became manager of the Visalandhra Publishing House and visited him a few times in Vijayawada. He always seemed poor (but is reasonably comfortable now), did not have his own house but was always cheerful, talking of books, publishing and editing Gurajada and others. I kept running him in to various places, in Mumbai, Delhi, Chicago and once on a flight to UK. At some stage, he seemed to quit the hurly burly of publishing for others. A contractor friend forced him to buy a small house with deferred payments. Meanwhile children completed their studies. Joshi decided to start his own publishing house and publish old telugu books for which copy rights have expired.
I have not really kept in touch with him in early days. It is a friendship which grew over years. I still do not know what sort of communist denomination he belongs to. But over years, there have been many conversations, particularly about Telugu literaray figures many of whom he knew personally from Visvanatha Satyanarayana, Arudra to Kutumba Rao others. He had some guesses about the change in Visvanatha possibly due to the ill-treatment in in the Christian college he taught and many stories about publishing, how Gurajada's manuscripts were put in two trunks and carted around when communists were umderground for fear that they may be burnt when some houses were set on fire by the police. Recently he had a stroke. I hope that somebody in Hyderabad will find out more about these stories which may be lost.
He is a man with strong beliefs and integrity and who with his wife Lalita( another admirable person who has spent a lot of her life in social work. On the last trip she was telling me of the lot of poor muslims in Hyderabad; how a mother and her daughter had only one proper set of clothes and only one of them could go out at a time)contributed to the welfare of people around them in various places. I hope that he will recover soon and spread his cheerfulness around for a long time.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Some India-related books

I have often wondered about the fact that many of the areas associated with India and Hinduism are in Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, Gandhari may be from Peshawar area, Panini from near Swat Valley, originial Kambhoja is in Afghanistan, the Mohenjodaro-Harappa civilization might have stated from Mehrgarh... Alice Albinia started dreaming about Rig Veda in Delhi and her engrossing account "Empires of the Sind" describes her travels along the Sind, then in to Afghanistan, later to Ladakh and Tibet up to the souce of Sind. I read it recently after a Book recommendation from Fatima Bhutto. It is not a coneventional history book but there is lot of history, its influences on the present, conflicts of nations and perils of development. Along the way, there is some day dreaming about where Rig Veda was written which is not too covincing. There is no discussions of the 'fact' that devas and dasa were interchanged for Iranian aryans and Indo Aryans; this later is discussed briefly in John Keay's "India: a History". But Alice Albinia has some additional information about trade between Harappa and Manda in Kashmir. Pankaj Mishra travelled some of the same territory in his "Temptations of the West" and his account will complement Albinia's account of the current conflicts. Another history book that I found interesting is Burton Stein' posthumous book prepared for publication for by Sanjay Subrahmanyam and others.
There are some heavy tomes like "Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia", edited by Sheldon Pollock, and "The Language of the Gods in the World of Men" by Sheldon Pollock which I read after a suggestion from Paruchuri Sreenivas. Somebody recently gave me a copy of "Classical Indian Metaphysics" by Stephen Phillips which looks readable. Indian history seems to be still unfolding and I hope to get some glimpses of it.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Information overload

An interesting discussion in 3quarks daily and a comment led to the following

A Conversation on Information: An interview with Umberto Eco, by Patrick Coppock
. I resist the temptation to quote from it or paraphrase it.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Who is Paruchuri Sreenivas?

My response to a query in
a Telugu blog

Paruchuri Sreenivas is the most knowledgeable person about Indology topics that I know. He has suggested to me and many others articles , books etc and seems to have the knack for finding significant articles. Even scholars like Velcheru Narayana Rao (Krishnadevaraya professor in University of Wisconsin and one of the best writers on Telugu poetry etc. in English)consult him for references.

I never met him personally but heard that his father and my father taught in the same school; but I think that he is much younger than me. He gets a bit impatient with sloppy people like me but is very helpful. By profession, he is a plastics engineer. He is the owner of the group racchabanda, and one of the people responsible for oldtelugusongs, ghantasala.inf. He has not written many articles but has many informative and sometimes encyclopedic posts in various places like racchabanda, oldtelugusongs discussion groups and vatious archives like telusa.

I think that he is a treasure and possibly a good position for him would be some sort of directorship of a Telugu Institute. But he does not have the right 'qualifications'.

From experimental philosophy

Dan Jones discusses Knobe Effect :
The good, the bad and the intentional
"A cornerstone question for the field is how the capacity for assessing whether an action was morally permissible relates to the capacity for making other, non-moral, judgements, such as who did what to whom and when, and whether someone did something intentionally. ‘The standard view was that there was a one-way relationship between the two domains,’ says Joshua Knobe, associate professor of philosophy at Princeton University. ‘On this view, we answer these non-moral questions first, and then work out whether a particular action was morally good or bad, praiseworthy or blameworthy.’

Rather than consulting his own philosophical intuitions, Knobe set out to find out how ordinary people think about intentional action......
In a study published in 2003, Knobe presented passers-by in a Manhattan park with the following scenario. The CEO of a company is sitting in his office when his Vice President of R&D comes in and says, ‘We are thinking of starting a new programme. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.’ The CEO responds that he doesn’t care about harming the environment and just wants to make as much profit as possible. The programme is carried out, profits are made and the environment is harmed.

Did the CEO intentionally harm the environment? The vast majority of people Knobe quizzed – 82 per cent – said he did. But what if the scenario is changed such that the word ‘harm’ is replaced with ‘help’? In this case the CEO doesn’t care about helping the environment, and still just wants to make a profit – and his actions result in both outcomes. Now faced with the question ‘Did the CEO intentionally help the environment?’, just 23 per cent of Knobe’s participants said ‘yes’ (Knobe, 2003a).
This asymmetry in responses between the ‘harm’ and ‘help’ scenarios, now known as the Knobe effect, provides a direct challenge to the idea of a one-way flow of judgements from the factual or non-moral domain to the moral sphere."
And much mote in the article.
A related comment (?) byJohn Gray in a review of Is a Smarter World a Better World?The Idea of Justice By Amartya Sen :
" In showing why those who pursue justice do not need an ideal of a perfectly just society, only a view about what would make the world a more just place, The Idea of Justice deserves to be acclaimed as a major advance in contemporary thinking. If the book succeeds in debunking rationalistic philosophies that claim to formulate principles of justice that everyone must accept, it still asks a great deal of reason - more, in fact, than reason can give. It is one thing to accept that the demands of justice are plural, another to recognise that they can be rivals - and not only in the sense that they must be ranked on a scale of comparative urgency because they cannot all be realised at the same time. In actual conflicts justice and injustice are not always as distinct and opposed as they seem in the seminar room. Quite often they are closely intertwined, sometimes in morally horrendous ways." (via 3quarks daily)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Telugu bloggers

For me it is a late realization that Telugu is a beautiful language. I used to fail in both Telugu and English in school, was fascinated by mathematics around the age of 16 or so and did not look back. But during the last few years, I started remembering songs which I heard as a child and started to read a bit more. As Charles Brown says in his Preface to Verses of Vemana:
"It is peculiarly smooth and elegant in its sound, and the poets have cautiously preserved its euphony. Hence Europeans have called it the Italian of India. The student may at first think this remark, which is no new one, unfounded; as the pronunciation is strong and decided; and as the mixture of Sanscrit terms often gives it a degree of roughness. But the pure rustic dialect as well as that of the poets is altogether different from this colloquial language; in the pure dialect most of those Sanscrit words that had harsh sounds are softened till they are as smooth and melodious as pure Telugu."

Later it seemed to be English words not all of which were softened in Telugu and Telugu as it was spoken a few years ago did not seem really suitable for expressing difficult thoughts in science and philosophy. I thought that a first step might be to make dictionaries of Telugu words both old and currently used available online. Since these pessimistic thoughts occured to me there has been an explosion of bloggers writing on difficult topics from science to philosophy, creating dictionaries online like తెలుగుపదం, making some dictionaries available online శ్రీ శోధన ప్లగ్‌ఇన్ and many more (some mentioned here and other posts in my blog). As I get to know more, I will post more links. The future of Telugu does not seem as bleak as it did five years ago.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mathematical Expertise

From Mathematical Expertise Brian Butterworth Chapter on Mathematical expertise. In K. A. Ericsson's (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. (pp. 553-568) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (150k) (2006), URL:

Charles Darwin, in a letter to Galton, wrote "I have always maintained that excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; I still think this an eminently important difference."

The article concludes:
"It may also be the case that some of us are born with a disposition to enjoy or even be obsessed with an orderly domain like mathematics. However, there is no evidence at the moment for differences in innate specific capacities for mathematics"

P.S. For such an eminent publisher, proof reading is poor. The formula on page 561 is wrong but can be easily corrected.
(via Evolutionary Psychology discussion group)
P.S (via 3quarksdaily) Another article in similar vein:
The truth about grit.
Maybe now one can try to find out about what makes some gritty: topic, person,environment, some gene expression...? But from the stories of various abnormal cases, it seems to me that most humans have enoramous potential if only we know how to tap it.
P.P.S.The Making of an Expert is drawing some attention in blogs.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Hadamard reexamined

Steven Hsu has a post on Hadamard's famous book "Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field" in Hadamard: The Mathematician's Mind and links to the very interesting article: Mathematical Discovery: Hadamard resurected. Both worth reading. I have met a few brilliant mathematicians including some Field Medallists, but the only one I saw at close quarters is my old friend M.S. Raghunathan. He does not seem to fit in to these patterns. I saw him picking up new topics in conversations and using them immediately. He would start working on any thing for arbitrary reasons even if he did not know the topic. He would start with all sorts of absurd ideas and would not listen if somebody told him that those would not work. After throwing away hundred of approaches he would come up with some thing that worked. He also missed a few by a whisker and probably missed the Fields Medal. He was like that in his younger days. Once he started on a topological topic to help me even though it was not his area. We were trying to reprove some result following a vague announcement. Since it was my area, I kept pace with him for a few days. When it came to the final hard part, our approaches differed. I thought that one approach was natural and should work and took a bet with him. If it worked, he should buy me dinner. Raghunathan did not care. He tried some absurd approach and proved the result. And after a few days, he showed my approach worked too and bought me dinner.
It seems that even for Raghunathan thinking of topics outside his area is difficult now. Last time I tried to tell him about some thing intersting in my area, he dozed off.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Lok Satta and Hyderabad

From The importance of Hyderabad by Surendra Srivastava in 'India Together':
"Winning even half a dozen seats in the GHMC elections would catapult Lok Satta into a real force in urban politics, and encourage party volunteers and loyalists in other cities to build upon this in other elections throughout India's cities. It is the best hope before us that we can emerge from the lacklustre politics of recent decades in the near future."
(via Qalander)

Kalyan Mukherjea

My friend Kalyan Mukherjea is a talented musician and mathematician. He always had poor eye sight and that was one of the reasons he learnt sarod in his childhood. Now he is totally blind and partly paralyzed but carries on an enviable active lfe partly due to a software developed by T.V. Raman. Here is an article about T.V. Raman and software: For the Blind, Technology Does What a Guide Dog Can’t.
Kalyan has already written one book and now he is completing another. He also teaches some friends music. It seems that my observation about abelian groups has just come in time. He writes: "Is there some kind of telepathic link which works across space? I am in the process of finishing off my notes on Algebraic Topology;
this is just a way of keeping myself occupied. I am writing a preliminary chapter on prerequisites and was having trouble writing up the structure theorem for finitely generated abelian groups. In fact, I had asked K to come over and give me an oral account of the best exposition that he knows of. But he has been rather preoccupied. Your note is a gift from heaven! I hope that I'll be able to write up your note in LaTeX and include it in my book."
Here is another exposition that I wrote for Kalyan:

I too started writing a book on algebraic topology (about 60 pages) and it came out as a part of it since I did not have too many algebra books at home. I am glad it will be useful to you. It is much simpler than what I wrote there. I was talking of internal direct sums but it is unnecessary depending on what definition of free abelian groups you take. Here it is again.
One observation needed is that if you have a free abelian group and a linear combination of the basis elements where the coefficients are co prime, that combination is also a basis element. Now start with a free abelian group A of rank n, a subgroup B, and look at all basis elements x of A and expressions for elements b of B. Choose the positive non zero coefficients of x. As x and b vary, choose the minimum of such, call this d. So we have a b=dx+ c, where c is written in terms of some other bsis elements. Now we can change x so that b=dx. To see this, if not, take out the common factor of d and the coefficients in the expression of c, so that we can write b=ky. Now k divides d and y is written in terms so that the coefficients are co prime. So y is also a basis element. So k=d. Now in the new basis if we write any other element f of B, the y coefficient of f must be a multiple of d (zero multiple included). Since this part is already in B, the remaining expression must be also in B. But the rest of the basis consists of (n-1) elements. So for the intersection of B with this part (by induction), there is basis such that for the interesection some mltiples form a basis. For the first bit we have dy. A little more thought shows that d must divide the other integers.
This is easier than my blog post.