Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Devil's Dung" !

Thanks to D. Balasubramanian's article in today's The Hindu, I read this article on asafoetida by Dr. Chip Rossetti. Please click this link to read the entire article.

Brinjal Matters !

I read quite an interesting article on brinjal in the latest issue of Outlook. Here is the link It is nice to learn that brinjal is indigenous Indian vegetable unlike potato, tomato. There is even a 4th century BC recipe for brinjal quoted in Ettuthogai, Tamil epic !

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I read this news item just a day or two back.
The BSNL Sports Quiz aired by Doordarshan Podhigai has won a mention in the Limca Book of National Records as the longest running weekly quiz show on television in India, it was announced at a press-meet here on Tuesday.

The show, hosted by Sumanth C. Raman, was started in June 2002 with the FIFA World Cup in mind and has since gone on to complete 373 episodes as on July 18.

The popular show, over its seven-year course, has received calls from over 30,000 participants, around 4.5 lakh SMSs and also 2000 e-mails per show on an average. Apart from Indian cities, viewers from as far as Oman, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, China, Latvia and Estonia have participated in the programme.

Kudos to Sumanth and Chennai Doordarshan.

More on Sumanth.

Sumanth C Raman started off as a medical practitioner but is a popular face on Doordarshan's sports programmes today and is also quite a sought after compere who is often sighted on the dais at several Government functions.
You can read more on him at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


This is by Ed Pilkington in The Guardian reproduced in The Hindu few days back.

The irresistible power of the digital revolution to transform everything in its path has been confirmed, lest anyone still doubts it, by one of the arbiters of the English language itself.

Merriam-Webster, the revered publishing house known for its texts on American English, released on Thursday a sample of more than 100 new words it has granted entry into its Collegiate dictionary this year. Fully a fifth of them relate to technological innovation.

“Vlog” makes its debut, defined as a blog containing video material, as does “webisode,” that is a TV show that can be viewed through a website.

Some old expressions have finally made it into Webster years after they were coined, courtesy of renewed digital interest. So “fan fiction” is traceable back to 1944 but the writing of stories by fans involving popular fictional characters has boomed through posts on the web.

Likewise, the use of “sock puppet” to describe a false identity used for deceptive purposes originated in 1959, but its proliferation on the internet has given it new life. “Flash mobs” (1987) — crowds that descend on a designated location to perform an event — have become so common, thanks to email and text messages, that the phrase has now earned its place in the dictionary.

The green revolution also makes a strong showing, with “locavore” for a person who eats only locally grown food, and “green-collar,” referring to jobs designed to help the environment.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sen and Brown

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival on the bookshelves of two books very soon. One is The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen and the other is The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Few days back Hasan Suroor in The Hindu discussed about The Idea of Justice. I am reproducing an interesting passage verbatim:

For those who might like to test their sense of justice, here’s a little quiz that Amartya Sen tried on his audience at the London Literature Festival the other day and had them struggling until he came to their rescue with, well, a sort of an answer. He used it to illustrate his alternative approach to mainstream theories of justice that he challenges in his new book The Idea of Justice published this month.

Three children — Anne, Bob and Carla — are quarrelling over a flute: Anne claims the flute on the ground that she is the only one of the three who knows how to play it; Bob demands it on the basis that he is so poor that — unlike others — he has no other toys to play with and it would therefore mean a lot to him if the flute were given to him; and Carla says that it belongs to her because she has made it with her own labour.

The important thing to note here is that none of the claimants questions their rival’s argument but claims that his or hers is the most persuasive. So, who deserves the flute?

Should it go to the child for whom it represents the only source of entertainment as he has no other toys to play with? Or to the one who can actually make practical use of it; or to the child to whom it must belong by virtue of her ``right” to the fruits of her labour?

The answer, according to Prof. Sen, is that there is actually no one “right” answer. In his scheme of things that he elaborates persuasively over more than 400 pages in his book, it is not possible in any situation to have an “impartial” agreement as to what offers a “perfect” resolution to a problem — and that applies to the dilemma posed by the children’s competing claims.

Nor, indeed, is there one perfect process to arrive at a conclusion that would be acceptable to all. The question as to who really deserves the flute can be decided in many ways — through a process of ideological reasoning ; on compassionate grounds such as charity (for example the poorest of the three children should get it); by majority opinion; and even by an arbitrary method like tossing the coin.

Prof. Sen argued that the story of “Three Children and a Flute,” which also features in his book, showed that there was no such thing as “perfect” justice; that justice was relative to a given situation; and that rather than searching for “ideal” justice the stress should be on removing the more manifest forms of injustice.

“The idea of justice demands comparisons of actual lives that people can lead rather than a remote search for ideal institutions. That is what makes the idea of justice relevant as well as exciting in practical reasoning,” Prof. Sen said.

Turning to Dan Brown, his The Lost Symbol is a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, unfolds over 12 hours and again features the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. It has taken Brown five years to write but only in the past few days has he settled on a title bland or enigmatic enough to give away none of his new subject matter. The book will have an initial print run of 5 million copies !

Monday, July 20, 2009

Guntur and Helium !

Total solar eclipse is occurring on August 23, 2009. Not many know that the observation of the total solar eclipse in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh 133 years ago by a British astronomer had led to the discovery of a new element and the unravelling of secrets of nuclear fusion in the sun. Let me paraphrase a news item from The Hindu few years back : "Helium was first discovered on the soil of Guntur on August 18 in 1868. Two teams -- the British team led by Colonel Tennant and the French team led by Jannsen -- observed the total solar eclipse on August 18, 1868, from Guntur.When the solar corona flashed into view as the moon completely blocked the photosphere of the sun, the light was spectroscopically analysed by subjecting it to pass through a prism. The spectral lines produced an extra yellow line which was not known before and did not tally with any known elements before, he pointed out. The British scientist, Sir Norman Lockyer, suggested that this extra line would be the signature of a new and unknown element in the sun which he called `helium', from the word `Helios,' which meant sun in Greek".

Thursday, July 9, 2009

History calling

I came across this article in The Hindu dated July 8th, 2009. I am reproducing it in toto.

CHENNAI: The grave of Robert Bruce Foote, an influential figure in the history of Indian archaeology and geology, has been discovered at Yercaud. Foote (1834-1912) was a man of varied interests — he was a geologist, archaeologist, ethnographer, palaeontologist, museologist and landscape painter. His discovery of a stone-tool on May 30, 1863 at Pallavaram, near Chennai, pushed back the antiquity of humankind in the Indian subcontinent and placed India in the world map of pre-history. It was a remarkable find because the stone tool, used by hunter-gatherers, was more than 500,000 years old.

Archaeolgists Shanti Pappu and Kumar Akhilesh, and Dr. Shanti’s father, V.R. Pappu, discovered it in the graveyard of the Holy Trinity church at Yercaud, the hill station in Tamil Nadu, in June.

The team also discovered the grave of Foote’s father-in-law Reverend Peter Percival there. Percival (1803-1882) too was multi-faceted. He was a scholar in Tamil and Telugu. He published the first Tamil translation of the Bible. He authored Land of the Veda: India Briefly Described in some of its Aspects, Physical, Social, Intellectual and Moral. Percival translated hundreds of Tamil proverbs into English and wrote a book on Tamil proverbs. He translated into English the aphorisms of Tamil poetess Avvaiyar. He authored Anglo-Tamil and Anglo-Telugu dictionaries, and published the journal Dinavartamani in Telugu and Tamil. He was a Registrar of Madras University and Professor of Vernacular Literature in Presidency College, Chennai. Percival and Foote were friends. Both were from Britain.
For Dr. Pappu, the discovery was the culmination of years of work to locate them. The founder of Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, Chennai and Pune, she said she developed an interest in the life and work of Foote after she began investigating the pre-historic archaeology of Tamil Nadu at Attirampakkam, 60 km from Chennai, in 1991.

She, Dr. Akhilesh and other scientists chose the particular site because Foote, besides discovering the stone-tool at Pallavaram in 1863, found stone-tools several lakh years old at Attirampakkam the same year. Later he proceeded to discover, document, interpret and write about more than 400 prehistoric sites in southern and western India.

Dr. Pappu, who is writing a book on him, said: “One of my major efforts in this study was to locate Foote’s grave and pay tribute to his remarkable personality.” She added: “His prolific publications comprising reports, memoirs, short notes and catalogues of antiquities, his lectures and dialogues with interested individuals, geologists and other scholars place him amongst the foremost intellectuals of the late-19th century.”

Both Foote and Percival (who was the father of Foote’s first wife, who had passed away early) settled in Yercaud. Documents on Foote’s life indicated that he died at the Presidency Hospital, Calcutta on December 29, 1912 and that he was cremated there on January 3, 1913. So attempts to locate his grave were abandoned. In June 2009, a search-team decided to follow the leads on Foote’s retired life in Yercaud.

“To our joy and surprise, we located the grave of not only Foote but Percival in the well-kept graveyard” with the help of local citizens and the parish priest, said Dr. Pappu.

Church records said Foote worked for the Geological Survey of India. More significantly, they said that although his body was cremated in Calcutta, his ashes were buried in the Trinity Church cemetery. Possibly, in those days it was difficult to transport a body over a great distance.

Foote’s gravestone reads: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Nearby is the grave of Percival, who was also an architect, championed girls’ education in Jaffna and later lived at Little Bourne at Luz in Mylapore, Chennai.

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