Friday, August 26, 2005

Ecotechnology, food security and Prof. MSS!

A few days after the Tsunami, there was this news item in the Hindu : it was about a village that survived Tsunami thanks to M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation's `Information Village Research Project'. A typical case of what one might call the collateral benefit. And, apart from the Sudhakar 'Thaths' Chandrasekharan story that I heard long back in a Banglinux conference about how computers made a difference to the lives of some college students in Kenya, in my opinion, this was the second human interest story where technology did make a real difference. So, that is Prof. MS Swaminathan for you - touching lives of people in ways that one might never have imagined.

In honour of Prof. Swaminathan turning 80 this August, the July 25th issue of Current Science has brought out a special section titled Chromosomes to food security : before I happened to see this special section, I knew Prof. MSS only as an agricultural scientist. Some of the articles in this issue disabused me of that notion - apparently, Prof. MSS also contributed to areas like cytogenetics, mutagenesis, and radiation biology. If not the entire special section, the MS Swaminathan I know by Bruce Alberts , President, National Academy of Sciences , USA, and the book review are worth giving a try.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sharing life's little pleasures!

yaan petra inbam peruga iv vaiyagam

So wrote the siddar Thirumoolar , may be some fourteen hundred years ago. Translated, it means, 'Let the world experience the happiness that I got' - The link above has an alternative translation (of the entire verse). You can join the club of Thirumoolar by allowing others access to your bookmarks . As the linked article in Nature indicates there are many sites that allow such 'social' bookmarking, and so, choose one, and bookmark away - for yourself, as well as others!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A fluid dynamics feast!

Long back, I heard Prof. Roddam Narasimha in a looking around talk (if I remember correct): it was a talk about ancient Indian mathematics, and it was a remarkably impartial, deeply technical, and wonderfully stimulating lecture. I decided not to miss another talk of his, irrespective of what the topic might be.

I heard Prof. JH Arakeri in a colloquium in the Mathematics Department on fluid dynamics: the talk was titled (if I remember correct) as Fluid dynamics by pictures. His talk was one of its kind- I have never heard anything like it either before or after.

Both Prof. Narasimha, and Prof. Arakeri write in Resonance regularly. And in the, August 2005 issue of Resonance, in which Theodore von Karman is featured, Prof. Arakeri has written the article-in-a-box about Karman, and Prof. Narasimha an article titled "The Challenge of fluid flow". Also, you should not miss the adventure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in the Classics section (where Karman describes his wind tunnel testing of bridge structures), and the stroll down the Karman street with Govardhan and Ramesh.

So, in this monsoon weather, if there is heaven on earth, it is with Resonance, it is with Resonance, it is with Resonance (and few hot cups of coffee at the coffee house)!

Friday, August 19, 2005

What the 'h' is that index?

Apparently, a physicist at the University of California, San Diego has come up with an index called h-index to help judge the performance of researchers - and, h-index is the highest number of papers that a scientist has written each of which has received at least that number of citations. Thus, h-index of 50 means 50 papers each of which have at least 50 citations. For more information, go here , here and here: Go here for the paper.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Have you met Ms. Lia? She is a real bright kid!

TMS , the minerals, metals, and materials society is a professional organization meant for educators, students, industrialists, researchers, scientists, and science administrators who are interested in materials science and engineering. JOM , is a publication of TMS, which carries many items of interest for scientists with non-material specializations: In fact, features like "In the final analysis" editorials of James J. Robinson (Editor, JOM), feature articles on archeometallurgy, and on materials science issues in popular science fiction and fantasy films, which are extremely readable, can be read even by those who have had no exposure to materials technologies.

I met Lia in the End Notes column of May 2005 issue of JOM: Lia (Light In Action) is a 14-year-old science-savvy (Hispanic) girl: apparently, she will be the central character for a multimedia project that will include a television show, book series, web site, traveling museum exhibit, mall show, and classroom experimental kit. And, Lia is a creation of the Boston University's Photonics Center and starts her first official job in September at the website of U.S. National Academy of Sciences . So, find some time to go meet Lia - She is a real bright and cool kid!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Computing rumours!

Prithee, listen well ;
I heard a bustling rumour, like a fray,
And the wind brings it from Capitol.
Shakespeare (Julius Ceaser)

American scientist runs a regular computing science column: in the May-June 2005 issue, Brian Hayes , in his essay titled "Rumours and Errours" discusses the modelling of rumour propagation and the close relationship between rumour models and models of epidemic diseases. Apparently, if there is one spreader initially, the fraction of population that would fail to hear the rumour is 20% (No wonder Lucius heard nothing when Portia heard 'bustling rumour, like a fray'). On the other hand, if the number of spreaders are more, more people fail to hear it (the upper limit being 36.8%). Why is this so? To know the answer to that question, or to write a code that would help you solve the mystery yourself, turn to 'Rumours and Errours'. And, forget not to spread the news!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Fuelling the nano-express!

Nano is fast becoming the magic password to unlock the secret passages in the academia and research: As Abi notes here , today's Hindu carries two nice articles on nanotechnology and nanoscience. While we are at it, I must also mention this Speaking of Science column of Prof. D Balasubramaniam (published a few months ago in the Hindu) where he calles the nanoparticles the Maxwell's demon of biology. Shankara referred me to a recent editorial titled "Nano-express from New Delhi?" in Nature materials . The editorial makes a reference to inverse Hall-Petch effect (though it does not refer to the work of Chokshi et al - Scripta Metallurgica, October 1989, Volume 23, Number 10, pp. 1679-1684). Prof. Chokshi and his colleagues (like Kotts who recently wrote a review on the deformation characteristics of the nanocrystalline materials for the Transactions of the Indian Institute of Metals and published a letter in Scripta Materialia - Volume 53, Issue 8, pp. 887-892 - about the creep deformation in Nano-nickel) continue to fuel the nano-express, and the 8th International conference on Nanostructured materials will be held in Bangalore: See here .

Coffee, computations, and reproducibility!

A cup of coffee in the Coffee House is always refreshing: Everytime, I wonder at the consistency with which they produce such good quality coffee all through the week - I do not know if the Coffee House coffee will live up to the exacting standards of RK Narayan , but it might make to his top ten list, given the fact that it is neither black nor white but brown. To meet Sai in the coffee house is another pleasure (especially, if Saswata is with you): today at around 6:00 in the evening, I had this triple pleasure: I was with Sai, Saswata, and my cup of coffee. The moment we settled with our cups of hot, brown brew, the talk turned to the MIT open courseware , Prof. Trefethen and his book on finite difference and spectral methods which is available online (and, believe me, Saswata has already read the Fourier sections of the book), and many other things besides - I sometimes feel more literature survey is done with a cup of coffee in the Coffee house than in a few hours with Google Scholar . In any case, after the coffee I came back and promptly made it to Prof. Trefethen's page: it is a pity I missed his page all these days. He has a huge number of links on his page apart from his books and essays: one of them about the SIAM 100$, 100-digit Challenge caught my attention, which in turn lead to a quote on the problem of reproducibility (this time around, not of the quality of coffee, but of scientific computations): if this quote interests you, you might want to read the Wavelab and the reproducible research booklet and Making scientific computations reproducible article. The moral of the story is: be it coffee or computation. reproducibility is the key. So long, and Thanks for all the Coffee!

Cluster computing!

Computing in Science and Engineering (published as Computational Science and Engineering prior to 1999) is a joint publication of IEEE Computer Society and American Institute of Physics. In my opinion, it is the computing equivalent of American Journal of Physics (for physics) and American Mathematical Monthly (for mathematics): a journal that addresses issues related to the culture and pedagogy of scientific computing. A recent issue - Volume 7, Issue 2, Year 2005 - of this journal carries several interesting articles on cluster computing: the articles are extremely accessible. Questions like "What is a cluster?", "Is Linux the operating system of choice for cluster computing?" are answered in the guest editorial. Apparently, the articles for this special issue were solicited with the aim of instructing (a) how to get started with cluster computing (especially a novice, who had never done it before), (b) how to get the most out of cluster computing, and (c) how to develop serious applications that scale well. There are four articles: one on Beowulf clusters, one on plug-and-play cluster computing, one on the use of Java for cluster computing, and finally, one on resource-aware scientific computation on a heterogeneous cluster. While you are at it, you may also want to take a look at their "Perspectives in Computational Science" column on high-performance computing.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Alice, Carroll, and Gardner!

I am a great fan of Lewis Carroll and his Alice books . The pleasure of reading Alice was n-tupled when I came across The annotated Alice by Martin Gardner and I became a Gardner fan almost instantaneously. Apparently, Gardner turned ninety on October 21, 2004. The May 2005 issue of the College Mathematics Journal carries the first part of an interview with Gardner; Don Albers of the Mathematical people and More mathematical people is the interviewer. The article also contains some wonderful photographs. If you are a Gardner fan (and, on second thoughts, even if your aren't one) you might want to take a look at the interview and the accompanying photographs.

Welcome to Aliceland!

Welcome to Aliceland - The wonderland of research, science and technology!

In this blog, I hope to post (mostly) links, pointers, and reviews to articles and books (related to science and technology, in general, and to my research, in particular) that I happen to notice, read, or peruse at any given point in space-time. Come, walk into the mirror, or, if you feel like it, take a leap into the rabbit hole!