Thursday, December 09, 2010

Phalax 6 is now out

The editor of Phalanx wrote to me saying that Phalax 6 is out. You can read the editorial on the quagmire of higher education here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

`A Place in the Sun' by Charles Correa

Recently I saw a book review of `A Place in the Sun' which is a collection of essays, lectures and the like by Charles Correa, brought out by Penguin India. I found a copy in our friendly neighbourhood lending library and borrowed it. It is a must read. I am amazed at his knowledge of history, geography and politics and his forthrightness which all shine brightly at the reader. There are so many things that I read here that I never knew about. He talks about the temple at Modhera near Ahmedabad which I had scarcely heard of. Also impressive is his compassion for the poor and the needy, for the homeless and the destitute, his breathtaking sweep of architecture across cultures, what goes into designing a building. Also of interest are his views on Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Corbusier and other personalities. Fabulous reading!

Let me regale you with some quotations:

1) The dedication `To the Eklavya in each of us'. (What a marvellous dedication!)

2) On page 91, from `Zero'


I am in a plane flying to the US for this lecture. Everything seems so American -- the way people look, the way they talk, their gestures, their dress, even the colour of their hair: blond, red, brown blue...It's all so different from India. It's clear to me that I'm at the opposite end of the world. And I wonder: How can these people ever begin to understand a country like India? Or vice versa?

And then suddenly a baby cries. And astonishingly, all the differences fall away -- it sounds just like an Indian child! Perhaps within each of us, there's a Volume Zero struggling to get out?

3) From `Great City, terrible place'

CODA: If you drop a frog into a saucepan of very hot water, it will desperately try to hop out. But if you place a frog in tepid water and then gradually, very very gradually, raise the temperature, the frog will swim around happily, adjusting to the increasingly dangerous conditions. In fact, just before the end, just before the frog cooks to death, when the water is exceedingly hot, the frog relaxes, and a state of euphoria sets in (like those hot-tub baths in California). Maybe that’s what is happening to us in Bombay, as everyday we find it getting to be more and more of a great city…and a terrible place.

(This could easily be a metaphor for our entire country and not just Bombay! In any case, you will find a long excerpt from LiveMint here.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

19th Kumari L. A. Meera Memorial Lecture

The 19th Kumari L. A. Meera Memorial Lecture will be given on Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 6 pm at the Indian Institute of World Culture, Basavanagudi, Bangalore, by Prof. Rajaram Nityananda of the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Pune entitled "The Graver Side of Light". The trust web-site is here.

Abstract: Light has illuminated our understanding of space, time, and gravitation via Einstein’s special and general relativity. . The focus of this lecture is the interplay between gravity and light - redshifts, gravitational lenses, and black holes are already a standard part of how astronomers observe and model the universe, and more is to come. . .

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Joseph Fox on Richard Heck's Nobel Prize

Heck's seminal studies were conducted in the late 1960's, but he did not receive a major award for his work until 2004. Yet, his day has come, and to see Heck recognized on this grandest of stages is absolutely remarkable. Something is right in the world when the Nobel prize goes to such a modest individual, based so purely on merit. It reminds me of why I went into science in the first place.

That is from Joseph Fox's article on the Nobel Prize to Richard Heck.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Robert Edwards -- Nobel Laureate

Great to read about this year's Nobel Prize in physiology, for the in-vitro pioneer Robert Edwards. I really like it when these prizes have gone to those who have made life better for many. Someday I hope that the pioneer of the Jaipur foot will also get a Nobel prize. If not for physiology, for peace!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

What shall we blog about?

The main trouble with a blog like this that has no specific agenda is that there is so much to blog about, which is why one ends up blogging so little. I received a message from Rahul Basu, the proud owner of As I Please that my blog seems to have nothing to say after the Dirac medal, when there is so much going on. (In this context, we note the sad passing of Nicola Cabibbo soon after the announcement of the Dirac medal.) Indeed, I would have like to blog about the Ayodhya decision, but what I wanted to say has been said so much better by a long list of signatories including Romila Thapar, Panikkar and so many others so much more scholarly than myself. What I found striking in another article by Thapar is "We cannot change the past"! While this is a truism, so much of politics and hell and brimstone in the media is generated around this. I was shocked to hear some say on TV that the work is not yet done, as the liberation of Krishnajanmabhoomi and Shankarjanmabhoomi (the Gyanvapi Mosque in Kashi!) [if I have got my `facts' right] is yet to be done. Closer home, i.e., in the scientific world there has been the earthquake about the the Bt Brinjal fiasco and the joint report of the academies. But this has been commented on by other so much more eminent commentators such as Rahul, and Nanopolitan. That is the problem: there is so much to blog about...

Monday, August 09, 2010

Cabibbo and Sudarshan awarded 2010 Dirac medal

The Dirac Medal of the ICTP is announced every year on August 8. The highly deserving winners this year are N. Cabibbo and E. C. G. Sudarshan.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Choosing proper footwear

I saw this safety tip on Fermilab Today and thought that it would be a good public service annoucement. See here. This is particularly important in our country where there is so much scope for hurting your feet -- bad roads, non-existent footpaths, slippery surfaces and the like.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The size of the proton

Apparently the proton is 4% smaller than thought all these years. So I read in the Deccan Herald last Tuesday. It was a report on the following Nature paper based on muonic Hydrogen at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. I will give a talk at our BSM coffee club tomorrow morning on this. The announcement for the talk is:

Dear all,

I will give a 10 min. talk on the paper "The size of the proton" just
published in Nature, in our BSM coffee club. CHEP, Chairman's office,
10am, Tuesday, 27/7/2010.

Best regards, Anant

Saturday, July 24, 2010

K. C. Das Sweets off New BEL Road

Gosh, I hope this is not becoming an advertising corner! However, it brings me great joy to inform the readership of this humble blog that K. C. Das now has an outlet just off New BEL Road. Coming from IISc, hang a right just before the 2nd petrol bunk on your right, just after the Reliance mobile store. You won't be disappointed!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Just Books" in RMV - Sanjay Nagar

So we have become members of Just Books that has opened a branch near where we live. It fills a long sensed gap in our lives. The decor is beautiful, the people are very nice and the book collection excellent for book lovers of all ages. They have a clever system that uses magnetic readers. It is above the erstwhile Baskin and Robbins opposite the Corner House on 80 ft road (opposite MSR Memorial Hospital).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Without comment: on convocation robes, or how not to fear history

Consider the following that was recently reported:

Stoking a potential controversy, environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Friday called as "barbaric colonial relics" the practice of wearing the traditional coloured robe at convocation ceremonies and publicly removed his own gown at one such event.

On the other hand, Mahmoud Mamdani has the following to say:

For over a millennium, these gowns have been a symbol of high learning from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. Should anyone ask you where they came from, tell them that the early universities of Europe – Oxford, Cambridge, le Sorbonne – borrowed them from the Islamic madressa of the Middle East. If they should seem incredulous, tell them that the gown did not come by itself: because medieval European scholars borrowed from the madressa much of the curriculum, from Greek philosophy to Iranian astronomy to Arab medicine and Indian mathematics, they had little difficulty in accepting this flowing gown, modeled after the dress of the desert nomad, as the symbol of high learning. Should they still express surprise, ask them to take a second look at the gowns of the ayatollahs in Iran and Iraq and elsewhere and they will see the resemblance. Education has no boundaries. Neither does it have an end.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A conversation with Khaleel Pasha

At this time each year, I have to leave the (mental) gated community [fn. 1] in which I normally live, to head off to Wheeler Road to meet our auditor to finalize the taxes. Since there is already enough stress in life, I take an auto to get there to avoid looking for parking and to day dream in the auto while the poor driver is taking all the stress. So I get into this auto and the driver says that he wants 10 rupees more. I, of course, react a little angrily, and then he says that prices of all essential commodities are increasing but their rates are the same. So I acquiesce and agree to his `demand'. He realizes that I am kindred soul and starts to pour his heart out. This is easy as I can handle all the languages of Bangalore, including even Kannada and we chat in Hindustani [fn. 2]. I see his name (Khaleel Pasha) and address and ask him where he lives. He says near Banashankari, but he has to go to all parts of Bangalore to earn his daily bread. He then says that he lives in a `slum area' [fn. 3] and there is such pressure on any and all housing that the rents are crawling up all the time. He tells me that his rent is upwards of three thousand rupees a month, not counting electricity and water. He pays one hundred and fifty rupees a day to the owner of the auto, spends more than a hundred on fuel and oil for the auto. He then adds that he has to work all days of the week to make ends meet. He is indebted by three lakhs of rupees, as he had to take this loan to have his two sisters married, and now is looking out to have his younger brother married. Fortunately, he is already married. Then he goes on to say that the cheapest brand of rice that he considers edible is over thirty rupees a kilogram, and that all vegetables and edibles are becoming more and more expensive. He also adds that if there is an illness in any working person's family or if someone is inform or elderly, then it becomes a real problem. So here was my reality check from `shining' and `resurgent' India. No, I do not need to go to air-conditioned seminar halls or even to lectures Halls in JNU learn about the economic reality in this great land of ours.

fn. [1]: the treachery of language which has named what should really be "walled communities" as "gated communities".

fn. [2]: from wikipedia

Hindustani , literally: 'of Hindustan'), also known as Hindostani or more commonly Hindi-Urdu, is an Indo-Aryan language, the lingua franca of India and Pakistan.

fn. [3]: from the online dictionary



Often, slums. a thickly populated, run-down, squalid part of a city, inhabited by poor people.
any squalid, run-down place to live.

Strange that he should himself call his neighbourhood this.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Report from Valencia

Imagine a little big city where you can breathe, walk for miles on a river bed that has been turned into a garden, with some beautiful modern buildings together known as the 'city of science and arts´ where the old city has Moorish buildings, where there are no crowds, the people polite, the weather perfect, miles of sandy beach. Can such a place be? The answer is yes, and it is Valencia on the Mediterranean coast. After the crowds and jostling and aging metro of Paris, what a change! Just outside the airport you will see olive groves, lush agricultural lands and I am also told orange groves.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vladimir Arnold (1937-2010)

I learnt today of the passing of Vladimir Arnold on June 3, 2010. Here is the obituary from New York Times. He was also a commentator on mathematics education. A quote on French teaching of mathematics reads:

To the question "what is 2 + 3" a French primary school pupil replied: "3 + 2, since addition is commutative". He did not know what the sum was equal to and could not even understand what he was asked about!

Another French pupil (quite rational, in my opinion) defined mathematics as follows: "there is a square, but that still has to be proved".

The full article can be found here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Paris -- June 2010

So here I am in scenic Paris en route to Valencia. I will present a seminar tomorrow on our recent work on pion-Kaon form factors. This work involving many of us has been evolving now for over a couple of years. Paris is as pretty ever with variable spring weather but unusually cool. Walked from the Hotel near Gobelins to Chatelet this morning to get a flavour of the city. Will not have time for tourism this time. Maybe in Valencia?

Friday, June 04, 2010

My article in `Phalanx' on doing science in India

Phalanx is a Quarterly Review for Continuing Debate. I am pleased to say that it carries my article on doing science in India. As mentioned there, it is a foray into a complex subject and is hardly comprehensive, and does not propose any solutions. The editors added questions and issues to my write-up. Let me know what you think.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Coorg trip

It is astonishing how many things one can pack into a trip if one has transport at one's own beck and call. The road to Coorg goes past that oh so cute bird sanctury at Ranganathittu, which we visited many times earlier on the bypass around Mysore. We stopped by the `Golden Temple' of the Tibetan settlement on the day after Buddha Poornima and so there were big crowds and large celebrations. In and around Coorg the coffee estates that one passes are spectacularly beautiful. You can squeeze in a visit to Tala Cauvery and Bhagamandala for the religiously oriented, the fort and Raja Seat in the town of Coorg and the Omkareshwar temple that I saw from the outside. The Abbi (Abby? Abbey?) falls are pleasant too and on the way back you can stop by the Nisargadhama where the Cauvery makes islands and you can walk around in the bamboo parks. Don't miss it!

Incredible India vs. Suvarna Karnataka

During the road trip to Coorg I finally registered the full import of the slogan `Suvarna Karnataka' as the region was still green and lush in the plains and even more wonderful in the Hills. How true, I said to myself. But then I always felt that the new slogan `Incredible India' to be a bit laboured. But what do I know...

'Homestay' in Coorg

The only context in which I have known home in conjunction with something else is `Homecoming' as in game or Queen long years ago in Delaware, until this weekend when we went to Coorg for a vacation and were accomodated in `homestay' arrangement. I don't know what the rules of grammar are, but maybe it should be `homestaying'? In any case, this is now a very popular thing it seems. It is a great alternative to staying in a Hotel and we had a fabulous experience. Keep watching this space for more on our visit.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More travel notes from the North-East

After Kolkata, the North-East weathered the storm of two talks by yours truly, in Shillong and in Guwahati on Particle Physics in the era of the LHC. Speaking of storms, Meghalaya of course lived up to its name with lovely showers on the way and of terrific climate. I heard on the news that the country was in the grip of a heat-wave, which skirted around Shillong. Guwahati was having unseasonable heavy rain. Strongly recommend these wonderful areas for all who want to travel. I am not alone in these sentiments. There was a group of 4 IITM Professors, including my old teacher Prof. Krishniah who were there with their families on LTC.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On the road in Kolkata

So here I am in hot, sunny and humid Kolkata, visiting the Saha Institute where I give a talk tomorrow. Got here early in the morning yesterday and met some friends. We learnt that there was to be a talk on Operation Green Hunt and UAPA and some other issues by Goutam Navlakha and Arundhati Roy in the University and we went off there. There were about a thousand people there. Impressive to see how much interest there is in the general population on these subjects. Off to Shillong and Guwahati later this week. I am reading `Roadrunner' by Dilip D'Souza while on the road. Strongly recommend. He talks about Kartik Kalyanram whose blog is here. His mami Sundari Mahadevan was my father's late brother's wife. Small world indeed.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle Editorial on the LHC

For fear of link-rot, I am giving the entire editorial here.

April.03 : After the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva earlier this week reported collisions of beams of protons — each of which was accelerated in a 27-km ring that runs deep underground across the Swiss-French border region at “centre of mass” energy — three and a half times higher than the highest energy reached before — scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research announced that the world had now entered an unprecedented era of exploration of the sub-nuclear domain.

This will cast light on many mysteries, including the nature of the so-called “dark matter” which is known to exist in galaxies and without which they cannot be held together. Also, theories of elementary particle physics advanced by a generation of scientists will now be validated or falsified. This considerable achievement results from decades of planning, construction, and work on precision engineering and highly advanced accelerator technology coupled with gigantic detection apparatus married to phenomenal grid-computing facilities. The discoveries of recent centuries show that in order to get to the basic building blocks of matter, one needs ever-increasing energies to probe matter at the smallest length scales. The LHC experiments, by reaching unprecedented energies, will throw open the windows to discovery. They will help go beyond what scientists know as the “standard model” that describes the familiar electromagnetism, weak interactions that lead to radioactive beta decay, and the strong interactions that keeps quarks inside protons and neutrons. The Higgs particle, termed the “God particle” required for the consistency of the standard model, might yet be one of the early spectacular discoveries at the LHC. Furthermore, when the collider replaces protons by ions of lead, which are very heavy, it is expected that conditions that must have prevailed just after the “Big Bang”, from which the entire cosmos arose, will be replicated on earth. These can be studied at high precision under controlled conditions.
The LHC could not have come into being but for the foresight and dedication of hundreds of scientists across the world and the funding from a consortium of European member states. Like all great voyages, the LHC has had its share of tragedies, with a technician’s life being lost in an accident, and the helium leak in 2008 that set it back over a year. While the field of particle physics might appear arcane, its allure captures the fancy of the young and the enthusiastic in science. The spinoffs are immense: nuclear medicine without which cancer treatment would be impossible arose from nuclear physics, of which particle physics is the descendant; and indeed, the world knows CERN as the birthplace of the World Wide Web. India can be justly proud of its observer status at CERN and of the immense contribution made by scientists from its leading research institutions and universities in the project. Companies like BHEL, ECIL, Kirloskar and Compton-Greaves have won international tenders to supply top-of-the-line components to the LHC, in a commendable example of industry-research partnership. This could not have happened without the foresight of pioneers like Homi Bhabha, the father of particle physics research in India, who believed that the destiny of modern nations can be shaped only by a commitment of its men and women to a life of science. It is worth recalling the words of Robert Wilson when asked if particle physics research had any defence implications: “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Delhi as the Accidental Tourist Destination

Thanks to the one perk we have on the job, Leave Travel Concession,
here we are in Delhi to visit family, and also, as tourists. Yes, it is a fabulous
tourist destination, provided you have a comfortable family pad to return to. Or of course you have lots of money to afford hotel accomodation, which comes in all varieties. Tourism is rendered much more effective thanks to the metro which now reaches many destinations, or at any rate always reaches Connaught Place where the metro stop is called Rajiv Chowk. We visited Qutb Minar, and I learnt that the oldest mosque in the sub-continent due to Alauddin Khalji (I remember spelling it Khilji in all school examinations, but political correctness must have taken over) is in the same complex, Humayun's tomb and Lodhi gardens Tuesday. The city is really and I kid you not, full of history in every corner and every pore. We were clearly not the only ones to think of tourism as we ran into Raghu Rangarajan and extended family at Humayun's tomb! Today was the day for the Jama Masjid which is impressive for its sheer size. We walked up to the top of one of the minars, about 130 steps, not counting the 60 or so you have to climb up before you get to the minar, up a narrow spiral staircase, to reach the top from where you have a view of Shahjahanabad. Then a short rickshaw ride to the Red Fort which is also magnificent. There are actully three museums in there, and the entrance to all these costing virtually nothing. Then on to the National Museum just off India Gate on Janpath which is as good a museum as any in the world. But one was already too tired to enjoy these. The trick is not to pack too many things into the same day. And of course, you want to pick the time of the year when the weather is pleasant. Although today was alright, in general it has been 7 degrees hotter than `normal'. Good luck to all of you who want to visit the City of Djinns. And I have not included in this so many other sights such as the Lotus Temple, Birla Mandir, Malai Mandir, National Gallery of Modern Art, Purana Qila, the zoo... (OLO, have I left anything out?).

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Edge of physics

That is the title of a new book by Anil Ananthaswamy, also class of 1985, IITM. Life was complicated as my classmates and I spent five years at IITM and are also the class of 1985, but not Anil. You may be wondering if we all failed a year, but no. We were the last 5 year batch, while Anil and his classmates were the first 4 year batch. But I digress. Today he will give a talk at CHEP on his adventures that resulted in this book. Anil also writes a blog. You can find information on the book here and the blog is here. In one of the articles on the blog, which you can find here, he talks of one of Hawking's many bets, which also features work of my thesis advisor Qaisar Shafi.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Man made disasters -- cold deaths in Delhi

After writing about luckless Haiti, I guess one should also think about our own luckless compatriots, see, e.g. this.

"Why does the Anglophone Indian want to be a Novelist?" Check this out.

The title of this post is that of an editorial at the new web-site. Check it out.

Luckless Haiti

If there is a luckless country in the world, it must be Haiti.

Fortunately, through Facebook we were able to contact our old friend Dominique Toublan whose wife Farah is from Haiti, and checked that almost all their friends and relatives are alright. One aunt was still unaccounted for.