Friday, August 31, 2012

From science blogs

Carl Zimmer on using evolution to evolve drugs, one study uses the fact that humans and yeast share a common ancestor.
Carl Zimmer links to a post on the power of replication.
I do not believe this study. More discussion in Eat Smarter, don't work harder?
Discussion of whether eating before going to bed is bad at Askscience
"but only 1 of my nostrils was plugged up, while the other one was easy breathing as usual. Why does that happen sometimes? " again at Askscience and many more at the same site.

Gorgeous dances by Padmini

from the film Pardesi/Travels Beyond Three Seas. The dances are also available in the second part 0f the film uploaded by Mosfilms here around 10 and 30 minutes (the link sent to me by Minai). The first part here. From the New York Times review
"Unfortunately, the first (Russian) half lumbers along like an elephant, as Mr. Strizhenov restlessly leaves home and tackles various dangers head-on. This portion is clogged with a lot of bearded raving and ranting (not his) and some dreadful ensemble acting. Meanwhile, sliding past are some striking outdoor panoramas of the Volga country, various deserts and seaports.
But the picture is more persuasive, and relaxed, when the hero arrives at his destination and visits Nargis' peasant family during a monsoon. The backgrounds of this pleasant, rather idyllic interlude are beautifully tinted and the mood is happy and serene. And, as we say, Nargis, who leads a chorus in one delightful native song, is a doll. Why the hero leaps on his horse and bolts for home mystifies us. Anyway, the Russians, not the Indians, have the last word."
There is a longer review with many comments at Dustedoff
"What I liked about this film:
Padmini. I must confess I’m not much of a Padmini fan, but in this, she’s wonderful. She’s grace, she’s beauty, she’s allure. Her dancing is fabulous, too—watch this fascinating performancewhere, just by gestures, she says a lot."
The link mentioned does not work but I think that the author is referring to the first dance.
The film also figures in discussions in the blogs of Minai and Richard.

Budaraju Radhakrishna's ''Telugu sangatulu'

కినిగె వాళ్ళు బూదరాజు రాధాక్రిష్న గారి 'తెలుగుసంగతు'లు మళ్ళీ
ప్రచురించారు. ఇంతవరకు చదవని వారికి ఉపయోగపడవచ్చు

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Joep Bor's article "Mamia,,Ammani...."

is mostly available at google books except for the pictures. It is a brilliant article, in part based on the experiences of Jacob Haafner. It is also included in the collection of essays Bharatanatyam :A Reader, edited by Davesh Soneji.

Reviews of some books on big questions

I am suspiocious of books about big questions and read only one of the books mentioned below.
 Mike Beggs' reviews of Debt by David Graeber A sample passage:
"The mint can print any numbers on its bills and coins, but cannot decide what those numbers refer to. That is determined by countless price-setting decisions by mainly private firms, reacting strategically to the structure of costs and demand they face, in competition with other firms. Graeber interprets Aristotle as saying that all money is merely “a social convention,” like “worthless bronze coins that we agree to treat as if they were worth a certain amount.” Money is, of course, a social phenomenon. What else would it be? But to call its value a social convention seems to misrepresent the processes by which this value is established in an economy like ours – not by general agreement or political will, but as the outcome of countless interlocking strategies in a vast, decentralized, competitive system."

There is more discussion of the review at Crooked Timber

Gulzar Natarajan discusses "Why Nations Fail" "The search for that magic pill which can explain economic development and national economic growth has a long history of failures."

An overview in Nature of Peter Turchin Human Cycles: History as Science via a post of Razib Khan. Razib Khan has reviewed earlier some of Peter Turchin's books.Razib Khan's readable review of "War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires" is here. Of the three cycles (abasiya cycles, secular cycles, fathers-and-sons cycles) discussed by Turchin , Razib says "The other two dynamics are much simpler to understand. For secular cycles Turchin presents some simple phenomenon which occur in many societies

1) Elites overproduce and become top-heavy during times of plenty
2) Inequality in material wealth lead to resentment and social discord

The metastable situation will generally shift at some point and switch to rebellion and civil war. This tends to kill off much of the elite, and naturally redistribute wealth with the collapse of law and order. Obviously there's much more, but that's the gist of it. "
From The Nature article "the fathers-and-sons cycle: the father responds violently to a perceived social injustice; the son lives with the miserable legacy of the resulting conflict and abstains; the third generation begins again. Turchin likens this cycle to a forest fire that ignites and burns out, until a sufficient amount of underbrush accumulates and the cycle recommences."
Apparently, Turchin predicts "He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way1. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. “I hope it won't be as bad as 1870,” he adds."

Somewhat different from the above theories. Hartosh Singh Bal on "Arundhati Roy's Magic Realism"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Understanding Tamil Nadu development

A doctoral thesis Understanding Tamil Nadsu's commitment to Public Services:An Institutionalm Perspective by Vivek mSrinivasan available at the above link. Abstract
"Compared to most other states in India, Tamil Nadu is noted for widespread provision of education, primary health care, nutrition support, rural roads, electricity, water and other public services. These services are typically well planned and tend to work well. I examine what determines Tamil Nadu’s performance. I argue that widespread and decentralized collective action for public services plays a critical role in it but such collective action is a new phenomenon, dating back to the seventies. I also argue that normative challenges by major social movements, changing influences of various social groups and raising individual capabilities among common people played an instrumental role in enabling such collective action that ultimately had an impact on public services."

Some remarks of Elinor Ostrom

From Conversations on Comlexity: A Tribute to Elinor Ostrom by Ben Ramalingam

"The lack of long timeframes and a lack of supporting cultures means that aid agencies don’t help people learn how to think about and change the structure of the situations they are facing. In many situations, this is because of colonial roots of aid, which did not respect local institutions – they didn’t understand them so they were treated as non-existent.
The difference between this approach and that of Darwin is stark – the care and diligence that was given to studying animal species in the 19th century is so evident, and it from this that we have evolutionary theory. But these countries also had people, but there was no attempt to understand their knowledge systems, the rules they had developed to manage various kinds of socio-ecological systems… Colonial powers assumed we have the answers, and destroyed social capital. Aid agencies, unfortunately, do much the same thing."
via This post links to an interesting talk by Owen Border where Steven Jones' nozzle story is again mentioned.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Steve Jones on natural selection

From The End Of Evolution?
"LET'S TURN TO THE second issue: natural selection. People often think of natural selection as something almost magical. But it isn't. It's extraordinarily simple. I first witnessed natural selection taking place in a soap factory in Liverpool in the 1960s, where I worked after leaving school.
Detergent was made then as it is made now: by forcing boiling hot chemicals at great pressure through a nozzle. As the mixture zooms out, the pressure drops, and it breaks into a vapour that is sucked away and a powder which is then sold as detergent.
The nozzles were a damn nuisance. They were inefficient, kept blocking and made detergent grains of different sizes.
Unilever and various other companies hired mathematicians and physicists in an attempt to improve the situation. But they didn't do very well; it turns out that the physics and maths of the transition from liquid to powder is quite difficult to understand.
So, almost in despair, they turned to the lowly biologists and asked if they had anything to add. What the biologists did was to apply Darwinian natural selection.
They made 10 copies of the nozzles, with slight changes absolutely at random. Some nozzles were longer, some shorter, some had a bigger or smaller hole, maybe a few grooves on the inside. But one of them improved a very small amount on the original, perhaps by just one or two per cent.
Based on the improved nozzle, they made another 10 slightly different copies, and repeated the process. After only 45 generations – which would be an utterly trivial instant in evolutionary time – they had a nozzle that worked many times better than the original. This was without any forethought of any kind, only by a simple application of evolutionary mechanisms."
A nice discussion of the nozzle example in Tim Hartford's Ted talk
Trial, error and the God complex

Friday, August 24, 2012

William Thurston RIP

I was plodding along in low dimensional topology driven more by passion than talent when Thurston came along to the subject around 1978. I could not understand any thing he said and there did not seem to be much point in doing research without understanding some of the things he did. There was a five year gap in my publications and I slowly started getting glimpses of some his insights. Then aroung 1987, one day I told him a little result I proved after an year of hard work. He seemed surprised, looked up for ten seconds and said "of course". I felt like a kid who could not understand fractipons. Now a days there are theories that education is not for everybody, some never understand fractions and that we should go back to some sort of caste sysytem like in India. I take solace in what Thurson said about mathematices
"It's not mathematics that you need to contribute to. It's deeper than that: how might you contribute to humanity, and even deeper, to the well-being of the world, by pursuing mathematics? Such a question is not possible to answer in a purely intellectual way, because the effects of our actions go far beyond our understanding. We are deeply social and deeply instinctual animals, so much that our well-being depends on many things we do that are hard to explain in an intellectual way. That is why you do well to follow your heart and your passion. Bare reason is likely to lead you astray. None of us are smart and wise enough to figure it out intellectually.
The product of mathematics is clarity and understanding. Not theorems, by themselves. Is there, for example any real reason that even such famous results as Fermat's Last Theorem, or the Poincaré conjecture, really matter? Their real importance is not in their specific statements, but their role in challenging our understanding, presenting challenges that led to mathematical developments that increased our understanding.
The world does not suffer from an oversupply of clarity and understanding (to put it mildly). How and whether specific mathematics might lead to improving the world (whatever that means) is usually impossible to tease out, but mathematics collectively is extremely important.
I think of mathematics as having a large component of psychology, because of its strong dependence on human minds. Dehumanized mathematics would be more like computer code, which is very different. Mathematical ideas, even simple ideas, are often hard to transplant from mind to mind. There are many ideas in mathematics that may be hard to get, but are easy once you get them. Because of this, mathematical understanding does not expand in a monotone direction. Our understanding frequently deteriorates as well. There are several obvious mechanisms of decay. The experts in a subject retire and die, or simply move on to other subjects and forget. Mathematics is commonly explained and recorded in symbolic and concrete forms that are easy to communicate, rather than in conceptual forms that are easy to understand once communicated. Translation in the direction conceptual -> concrete and symbolic is much easier than translation in the reverse direction, and symbolic forms often replaces the conceptual forms of understanding. And mathematical conventions and taken-for-granted knowledge change, so older texts may become hard to understand.
In short, mathematics only exists in a living community of mathematicians that spreads understanding and breaths life into ideas both old and new. The real satisfaction from mathematics is in learning from others and sharing with others. All of us have clear understanding of a few things and murky concepts of many more. There is no way to run out of ideas in need of clarification. The question of who is the first person to ever set foot on some square meter of land is really secondary. Revolutionary change does matter, but revolutions are few, and they are not self-sustaining --- they depend very heavily on the community of mathematicians."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quorum sensing

From a short description of the work of Bonnie Bassler:
"Silverman ended his talk saying “‘Don’t you see, these bacteria are communicating with this molecule. They are acting multicellular.’” At the end of his talk, Bassler steamed to the podium and ask Silverman for a job. Much to her surprise, he offered her a postdoc position right there. She packed her stuff and returned to California and began studying bioluminescence in the marine bacterium V. harveyi.
During her postdoc, Bassler defined the QS circuit of V. harveyi. She showed that, like V. fischeri, V. harveyi communicated with other members of its species by using a chemical signal called an HSL autoinducer (3). The marine bacteria secrete this autoinducer into their environment. As long as bacteria are in low numbers in dilute suspension the autoinducer is washed away and no act is being taken, but when bacteria replicate and grow in number, the concentration of the autoinducer molecule also increases in the surrounding. When it reaches a certain threshold it is sensed by the bacteria and gives it an indication of its own population size. They then respond simultaneously by activating their light genes to produce bioluminescence. As Bassler puts it so nicely in her TED talk, “they vote with these chemical votes, the votes get counted and then everybody responds to the vote”.
Bassler also discovered that V. harveyi had more than one molecule for QS; she called this additional molecule autoinducer-2 (AI-2) (3, 4), and the original, found by Hastings, became autoinducer-1 (AI-1).
So… you can legitimately ask what’s all the fuss about understanding the genetic and chemical basis of how marine bacteria talk to each other and produce light?
It turns out that bacteria use QS not only for bioluminescence but also for many other important traits, most important of which, virulence (5-8). Actually, in this regard bacteria act very similar to us; if you would want to do something that’s beyond your reach as an individual, you’d talk to some other guys, get the necessary quorum, and then carry it together. Bacteria use exactly the same strategy, or as Bonnie puts it, “they are just too small to have an impact on the environment if they simply act as individuals”.
Thinking of it, bacteria are microscopic creatures, and probably their only chance to overcome a huge host is by acting together. So they count them self up and only when the right amount of cells is present they launch their virulence attack to take over their host.
And this simple realization, has huge implications for human health. "
Her Ted talk, which according to Carl Zimmer is one of the good Ted talks and a description of the talk towards the end of the blog post Microbial Hermeneutics - 2 which also links to a later interview.

A lively tune from a forgotten composer

Some forgotten singers

Warren Sanders links to a couple of songs of Gohar Bai Karnataki
More about her life and career here  and here.
A song of Sitara Kanpuri from a shelved film
Another song of Sitara Kanpuri and bit of her background from Atul's bollywoodsongaday

Monday, August 20, 2012

KFC shifting to GM free oils in Australia

says a recent report:
"Chief KFC supply chain officer Michael Clark said that at this stage the company will only buy non-GM canola oils and has reached agreements with suppliers Cargill, Intergro Foods and MSM Milling to ensure it could secure enough of the oil for their requirements."
Recommendations from different panels on the merits GM cottonseed oil seem different. The Indian Panel does not like it
where as an European Panel report does not see much eidence of harm

Sunday, August 19, 2012

T.G. Kamala Devi RIP

Obituary A Woman of Many Talents by M.L.Narasimham in The Hidu. Although not a front line actress or singer she is remembered for quite a few songs and dances from films like Mugguru Maraateelu, Gunasundari katha, Pathala Bhairavi, Malliswari,.. and due to conflict of interest between recording companies some of her early film songs were not recorded on discs. Here are a couple of songs I listen to often
                                          Her reminiscences
She also dubbed in several Telugu films including for Lalitha in Devadas (1953).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Minai discusses Soneji's book on devadasis

"Soneji's focus on the functions and lives of the "devadasi" community outside of their temple work is supremely interesting.  At one point in the book, he outlines his concern, “But why do we not hear of the secular "salon performances" of devadasis in cultural histories of South India?  Why are historical representations of dance in South India linked almost exclusively to temples and temple culture?  How has the use of the term "devadasi," full of ritual and religious connotations, eclipsed possibilities of thinking about the nonreligious lives of professional dancing women in this region?""
It seems that a large number of them acquired some financial independence, freedom from some of the oppressive norms for females in general, many were more educated than women in general and there were also some writers. These freedoms seem to have been lost during the century starting from mid nineteenth. A similar trajectory with tawaif singers in North India. This last article also links to book review in which Gandhi's reactions tp prostitutes attempted efforts to join the Congress Party.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dreaming of home

Hanif in "Haunted by Homeland" quotes the boy from Shikapur
“My parents are still there,” he said. “All by themselves.” Then he reverted to the subject of his dreams. “When I wake up from these dreams, I often think about my parents. Because you see when we left I was only sixteen. I made a whole life here. They were already in their sixties when they left. And they had never lived outside of Shikarpur. They never talk about it. But I worry about them. I wonder if I can’t get rid of these dreams, what must they be going through?”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Links August 10, 2012

The Last Days of Pushing on a String by Mark Blyth (via 3quarksdaily)
Discussion of Dani Rodrik's No More Growth Miracles at Economist's View; interesting comments by Paine ad Anne.
Manu Joseph on Anna Hazare movement The Obituary of a Movement in Open Magazine
Bar GM food crops says Parlimentary Panel from The Hindu
Duncan Green What can we learn from eight successful campaigns on budget transparency and accountability? two of them from India but I have not read the case histories yet.
When battered people took on pesticde industry by Sunita Narain

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Arudra's film songs

I read some of Arudra's books and poetry and always felt that his film songs were much better than his poetry. His film songs came out in five volumes compiled by Ramalakshmi Arudra. I just noticed a long list of possible corrections
by Kampalle Ravichandran (కంపల్లె రవిచంద్రన్‌) published in 2009. I have this set and go back to them off and on and this list may be useful for me.
I came across this link looking for the origins of the javali 'antalone tellavare'. It is attributed to Arudra in the film Muddubidda (1956) but according to this 1891 book of R.C. Day (link from Paruchuri Sreenivas), page 79, the javali was one of the most popular in nineteenth century; but there were some regional variations in the lyrics. The film version of the lyrics are here
My favourite song from the film is chitti potti varala muta
P.S. I thought that I mentioned this before but it may be somewhere else. Arudra's film songs are generally written in simple telugu understandable to most whose exposure is mainly to spoken Telugu. Here is a story from one of his sons in law Kalyan Mukherjea told to me about ten years ago. Arudra was once travelling by rickshaw in Vijayawada and there was an Arudra film song played somewhere. The rickshawwala hummed along, then slapped his thigh and said that 'that bastard really knew how to write songs ' or something along those lines (Kalyan did not know Telugu and so the exact words were lost). According Kalyan, Arudra thought that was one of the best compliments to him.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A passage about science from Peter Medawar

After browsing through, I started looking through some of Peter Medawar's articles. From his review 'Lucky Jim' of "The Doble Helix" (1968)
"A good many people will read The Double Helix for the insight they hope it will bring them into the nature of the creative process in science. It may indeed become a standard case history of the so-called “hypothetico-deductive” method at work. Hypothesis and inference, feedback and modified hypothesis, the rapid alternation of imaginative and critical episodes of thought—here it can all be seen in motion, and every scientist will recognize the same intellectual structure in the research he does himself. It is characteristic of science at every level, and indeed of most exploratory or investigative processes in everyday life. No layman who reads this book with any kind of understanding will ever again think of the scientist as a man who cranks a machine of discovery. No beginner in science will henceforward believe that discovery is bound to come his way if only he practices a certain Method, goes through a certain well-defined performance of hand and mind."

Sisters on a boat

Madhubala and Chanchal in Naata (1955) whih has several nice songs

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Miscellaneous links August 5, 2012

When symptoms of high blood pressure started recently, I have followed this kind of advice and it seems to work with in a few weeks.
orgtheory,net links to a new book on collective wisdom many of which are currently available online.
Economist's View Discussion on Luck vs Skill includes a discussion of Duncan Watts book "Everything is Obvious" which has been mentioned before.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Links August 4th, 2012

John Quiggin at FiveBooks

Interesting selection of five books by an economist John Quiggin on Utopia (via 3quarksdaily):
"The reason I chose this topic is because of the current political situation, particularly on the left. We’ve moved from a situation where the left offered a utopian vision that inspired people, to a situation where the left is primarily trying to stave off the tribalism that dominates politics on the right. That doesn’t really seem to be enough to mobilise and engage people. We need to recapture the kind of vision and language of utopia that used to be part and parcel of left politics. But I suppose I like the idea of utopia more than the work of specifying the details.......
Part of my story is a feasible utopia – it’s talking about things that are actually achievable, rather than purely abstract goals, or the goals that characterised the communists, for example."

Friday, August 03, 2012

Gore Vidal RIP

I read only two books by Gore Vidal "The Last Empire" and "United States: Essays 1952-1992" both of which were excellent and I keep going back to them. Yves Smith has given links to some of the obituaries in including this NY Times with this correction which seems strangely appropriate:
"Correction: August 3, 2012

An obituary about the author Gore Vidal in some copies on Wednesday included several errors. Mr. Vidal called William F. Buckley Jr. a crypto-Nazi, not a crypto-fascist, in a television appearance during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. While Mr. Vidal frequently joked that Vice President Al Gore was his cousin, genealogists have been unable to confirm that they were related. And according to Mr. Vidal’s memoir “Palimpsest,” he and his longtime live-in companion, Howard Austen, had sex the night they met, but did not sleep together after they began living together. It is not the case that they never had sex."

Persistence of prejudices

A recent paper "Persecution Perpetuated: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Semitic Violence in Nazi Germany"

How persistent are cultural traits? Using data on anti-Semitism in Germany, we find local continuity over 600 years. Jews were often blamed when the Black Death killed at least a third of Europe’s population during 1348–50. We use plague-era pogroms as an indicator for medieval anti-Semitism. They reliably predict violence against Jews in the 1920s, votes for the Nazi Party, deportations after 1933, attacks on synagogues, and letters to Der Stürmer. We also identify areas where persistence was lower: cities with high levels of trade or immigration. Finally, we show that our results are not driven by political extremism or by different attitudes toward violence.
There is a passing reference to India ",Jha (2008) finds that Indian trading ports with a history of peaceful cooperation between Hindus and Muslims saw less violent conflict during the period 1850–1950 and in 2002."
The paper of Jha mentioned is (revised version)

Links to several Rakhi songs

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A game changer?

A new paper by William Press and Freeman Dyson is drawing a lot of attention (via Steven Hsu who also links to relevant papers). From the summary by William Poundstone:
"Executive summary: Robert Axelrod's 1980 tournaments of iterated prisoner's dilemma strategies have been condensed into the slogan, Don't be too clever, don't be unfair. Press and Dyson have shown that cleverness and unfairness triumph after all."
From a response by KARL SIGMUND & MARTIN NOWAK:
"With their splendidly 'mischievous' extortionate strategies, Press and Dyson contribute to classical game theory, by considering two players who grapple with each other in a kind of mental jiu-jitsu. The leverage afforded by zero-determinant strategies offers a splendid new arsenal of throws, locks, and holds.

Which of these strategies can flourish in an evolutionary setting is less clear. Being successful, in this context, feeds back at the population level. It means that more and more players will act like you, be they your offspring or your epigones. Thus you are increasingly likely to encounter your own kind. If your 'extortionate' strategy guarantees that you do twice as well as your opponent, and your opponents' strategy guarantees that she does twice as well as you, this only means that both get nothing. The only norm which is not self-defeating through population dynamics requires players to guarantee each other as much as themselves. We are then back to Tit For Tat. Press and Dyson are perfectly aware of this, of course. In a nutshell, they have uncovered a vast set of strategies linking the scores of two players deterministically (as TFT does), but asymmetrically (unlike TFT). This enriches the canvas of individual interactions, but not necessarily the range of outcomes open to evolving populations."

Building local economies

From The Humble Origins of New Global Economy. Don't Miss Out (via Naked Capitalism):
"What is evident to me, in the geeky splendor of the photos, is that this type of event is where the future is being made.
Here’s an example of what is available. The machine pictured is an Amaya Bravo. It’s a 16-thread computer controlled embroidery machine that can rapidly and flawlessly embroider complex designs onto hats, shirts, and dresses. It’s probably not of much interest to most readers, but IF you want to build an artisanal clothing business that uses embroidery, you will be well served to buy one of these machines.

Unfortunately, while the machine’s price has been DRASTICALLY reduced and the size of the machine is MUCH smaller than it used to be, the basic model still costs $9,000. As such, it’s a tough purchase for someone starting or running a micro-business.
Fortunately, makerspaces are being established in communities all around the world to make it easier for people to get access to tools like this.
It’s simple. If you want to build a thriving local economy. A local economy that makes your community resilient to economic failure and shocks, you need to find ways to help the innovators in your community make things."

P.S. Related An Inspiring Story

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

An excellent book on some devadasis

in coastal Andhra and parts of Tamilnadu Unfinished Business:Devadasis, and Modernity in South India by Davesh Soneji. Apart from the politics, economics, legislations, the author actually meets several devadasis over a period of several years. The book is interspersed with accounts of these meetings, particularly chapters 2,4 and 5. A version of parts of Chapter 5 is available online
and also of Chapter 2
Some of these ladies are in their seventies, their reminiscences, still singing and dancing for themselves and their friends are some of the most enjoyable parts of the book. Some of these arts are to some extent preserved under the names Andhra Natyam by Nataraja Ramakrishna and Vilasini Natyam by Swapnasundari.
On the whole a very enjoyable book for laymen like me. I became aware of this book through Minai whose excellent posts on dances have been mentioned several times before.