Saturday, October 31, 2009

Flowchart for choosing your religion

Found this in Amit's Indiauncut blog, pretty hilarious.

Flowcharts are a great way to make sense out of confusing scenarios, and there's no scenario that's more confusing than trying to figure out what religion you should follow. That's why we've created this helpful flowchart to guide you through the process:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

William Dalrymple on India

I found quite a few of Dalrymple's observations while talking about his new book, “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India” worth quoting. A sample:

"This is what I like about this country. As I travelled and met the characters for my book. I found it is not possible to compartmentalise life anymore. There are so many ways of being a Hindu, so many ways of being a Muslim or a Christian here. India continues to surprise me. The day India ceases to surprise me I might get bored. But I love the India that is changing from the time I first came 25 years ago. Besides economic development, new traditions are developing. They are not static.”

Here is the link

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Man Booker 2009

Excerpts from an article in FT by Peter Aspden

Hilary Mantel is the winner of this year’s Man Booker prize for fiction for Wolf Hall, her historical novel about the politics of Tudor England.

Wolf Hall, her 11th novel, is set in the Tudor court of the 1520s. It focuses on the role of Thomas Cromwell during the years that Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon.

Reviewing the book in the Financial Times, novelist Julie Myerson described it as “fantastically well-wrought, detailed and convincing”.

“Despite being a complex examination of the all-too-familiar shenanigans of power, of favour and of treachery in the Tudor court, still the rhythms at its wrist-aching, 650-page heart are universal: men, women and children, birth and death.”

This year’s shortlist was widely regarded as one of the most readable, a fact that has been reflected in book sales. Wolf Hall has already sold nearly 50,000 copies and can expect a massive boost after winning the £50,000 prize.

Last year’s winner, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, has sold more than 500,000 copies and rights have been sold to 39 countries.

Giant Ring around Saturn

Today's newspapers carried exciting find of a mega ring around Saturn. Read on:

Scientists have discovered a giant ring around Saturn, the biggest yet discovered in the solar system.

The “supersized ring”, as it being called by the scientists from the University of Virginia who discovered it, is so big it would span the width of two full moons worth of sky if you could see it from Saturn.

Saturn’s rings were first discovered almost exactly 400 years ago by Galileo Galilei and are visible with even the smallest telescopes, but this ring is only visible in the infra-red light and was first spotted by Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

It is about 10 times the diameter of Saturn and orbits at a distance of eight million kilometres from the planet.

It covers a volume of space which would contain a billion Earths though it is made of an extremely tenuous film of dust from Phoebe, one of Saturn’s outer moons.

Irish-born scientist Prof Carl Murray said the discovery did not come as a surprise as it had been speculated about in a little known scientific paper delivered 30 years ago.

Prof Murray, who is one of the chief scientists on the Cassini spacecraft mission which has been photographing Saturn and its ring systems for years, said it solved a mystery as to why one of Saturn’s moons, Iapetus, is heavily marked on one side and completely smooth on another.

“When I heard about it, I just nodded and said ‘yes that’s almost what we suspected’,” he said.

Prof Murray will give a lecture at the Dundalk Institute of Technology tonight at 8pm and at Trinity College tomorrow hosted by Astronomy Ireland, where he will discuss the new discovery.

“Phoebe is the source of the ring material. We had a 300-year problem observed by the original (Giovanni) Cassini who discovered Iapetus and who saw that it appeared to have a dark and a bright hemisphere.”

Like our moon, Iapetus is tidally locked with the planet so the side facing Phoebe would be one that would be impacted from debris coming from that moon.

“We had some indication about this from the Voyager spacecraft (which photographed Saturn and its moons in the early 1980s), but we finally saw with the Cassini images that Iapetus had a coating.

“It was theorised that if Phoebe was impacted and ejecta came off it would spiral in towards Saturn and the first moon it would come to is Iapetus. It all seems to make sense,” the professor explained.

“We suspected there must be a ring. It was like a smoking gun and we now have the evidence.”

Meanwhile, scientists will tomorrow target our own Moon to find out if there are large quantities of water hidden in craters which never see sunlight.

At exactly 12.31pm Irish time, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCross) will send a rocket into the lunar surface near the Moon’s South Pole.

The impact of the explosion will throw up 350 tonnes of lunar dust, which will be analysed by LCross before it too crashes into the surface.

Coincidentally, last month the Indian satellite Chandrayaan 1 discovered traces of water across the Moon and particularly in the polar areas, a discovery which would have seemed wholly improbable a couple of decades ago.

If the scientific hunch is correct and there are billions of gallons of water frozen near the Lunar poles, it could prove to be critical in establishing a permanent manned base on the Moon.
- Ronan McGreevy in The Irish Times

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dino Nest Find in Tamil Nadu

"A team of geologists from Periyar University, Salem, has discovered nesting sites of dinosaurs near Ariyalur. Preliminary reports suggest that this could be the largest dinosaur nesting site ever know in India, going by the 2 sq km extent of area covered."
Read further at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Umberto Eco on handwriting

Let me confess beforehand, I have very bad handwriting.

Umberto Eco: The lost art of handwriting

Recently, two Italian journalists wrote a three-page newspaper article (in print, alas) about the decline of handwriting. By now it's well-known: most kids – what with computers (when they use them) and text messages – can no longer write by hand, except in laboured capital letters.

In an interview, a teacher said that students also make lots of spelling mistakes, which strikes me as a separate problem: doctors know how to spell and yet they write poorly; and you can be an expert calligrapher and still write "guage" or "gage" instead of "gauge".

I know children whose handwriting is fairly good. But the article talks of 50% of Italian kids – and so I suppose it is thanks to an indulgent destiny that I frequent the other 50% (something that happens to me in the political arena, too).

The tragedy began long before the computer and the cellphone.

My parents' handwriting was slightly slanted because they held the sheet at an angle, and their letters were, at least by today's standards, minor works of art. At the time, some – probably those with poor hand- writing – said that fine writing was the art of fools. It's obvious that fine handwriting does not necessarily mean fine intelligence. But it was pleasing to read notes or documents written as they should be.

My generation was schooled in good handwriting, and we spent the first months of elementary school learning to make the strokes of letters. The exercise was later held to be obtuse and repressive but it taught us to keep our wrists steady as we used our pens to form letters rounded and plump on one side and finely drawn on the other. Well, not always – because the inkwells, with which we soiled our desks, notebooks, fingers and clothing, would often produce a foul sludge that stuck to the pen and took 10 minutes of mucky contortions to clean.

The crisis began with the advent of the ballpoint pen. Early ballpoints were also very messy and if, immediately after writing, you ran your finger over the last few words, a smudge inevitably appeared. And people no longer felt much interest in writing well, since handwriting, when produced with a ballpoint, even a clean one, no longer had soul, style or personality.

Why should we regret the passing of good handwriting? The capacity to write well and quickly on a keyboard encourages rapid thought, and often (not always) the spell-checker will underline a misspelling.

Although the cellphone has taught the younger generation to write "Where R U?" instead of "Where are you?", let us not forget that our forefathers would have been shocked to see that we write "show" instead of "shew" or "enough" instead of "enow". Medieval theologians wrote "respondeo dicendum quod", which would have made Cicero recoil in horror.

The art of handwriting teaches us to control our hands and encourages hand-eye coordination.

The three-page article pointed out that writing by hand obliges us to compose the phrase mentally before writing it down. Thanks to the resistance of pen and paper, it does make one slow down and think. Many writers, though accustomed to writing on the computer, would sometimes prefer even to impress letters on a clay tablet, just so they could think with greater calm.

It's true that kids will write more and more on computers and cellphones. Nonetheless, humanity has learned to rediscover as sports and aesthetic pleasures many things that civilisation had eliminated as unnecessary.

People no longer travel on horseback but some go to a riding school; motor yachts exist but many people are as devoted to true sailing as the Phoenicians of 3,000 years ago; there are tunnels and railroads but many still enjoy walking or climbing Alpine passes; people collect stamps even in the age of email; and armies go to war with Kalashnikovs but we also hold peaceful fencing tournaments.

It would be a good thing if parents sent kids off to handwriting schools so they could take part in competitions and tournaments – not only to acquire grounding in what is beautiful, but also for psychomotor wellbeing. Such schools already exist; just search for "calligraphy school" on the internet. And perhaps for those with a steady hand but without a steady job, teaching this art could become a good business.