Archive for the ‘Science’ Category


Saturday, August 15th, 2015

I had heard from Connie Jones (Secretary of the High Energy Physics group) that Prof. Okubo had written a paper with a Japanese colleague. I helped her put it on the arxiv. She wanted me to help him with publishing it.

Okubo left a copy of it in my mailbox. I read it and left a message with Connie that I would like to talk to him. He came by. We discussed the paper, on certain non-associative algebras. Then he said somewhat uncharacteristically that he was very sick. And in pain.

Pauli Meets God

Monday, August 18th, 2014

God is kind to physicists. They get an interview after death where questions which stumped them in life are answered. Most ask about Quantum Gravity.

Wolfgang Pauli too, got his chance.

God: “You have any questions for me? ”
Pauli: “Of course not. May be your staff didn’t tell you who I am ?”
God. “Oh yes, they told me some Pauli stories. And I see what you did there with the matrices.”
Pauli: ” So.. do you have any questions for me?”
God:”Yes. Explain turbulence.”

The Indian Railway I

Monday, April 20th, 2009

The Indian Railway is the world’s largest employer. The main lines were built in British times. Mostly to move the army around to quell rebellions in different parts. The Madras regiment in Punjab, the Punjab Regiment in Assam and so on. But later, it also became the common man’s mode of travel in India. For a few dollars you can go from Chennai to Delhi or from Mumbai to Kolkatta. The trains are slow and the bathrooms are–ahem–aromatic. The food is of questionable hygiene. But you will see the countryside, and most likely make some friends. In the long distance trains, if you have a sleeper berth, the journey is comfortable but not luxurious. I am not talking about the palaces on wheels meant for foreign tourists.

A Certain Swagger

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I mentioned to a colleague that Varadhan, a mathematician of Indian origin at NYU, won the Abel Prize. One of the top honors in the field. My colleague turned to the person sitting next to him, a visiting academic, and said:

In the middle of all that corruption, they are good in statistics. It must be because the British were good at it.

He was expressing a common view of India as a corrupt place where nothing works, perhaps with an occasional genius. Even Americans whose knowledge of India does not extend beyond watching “Slumdog Millionaire” feel free to pass such judgment. (more…)

The New Faith

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I am at my daughter’s birthday party the other day, chatting with the father of one of the girls.

“So, what do you do?” (more…)

What Would Gandhi Drive?

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

The Nano

Nano Nano
Nano has been a buzz word in physics for a while. Now it is also the name of a car, made by Tata Motors of India. It is cute, looking more like a toy car than a real one. It is small. I have seen potholes in Calcutta that are bigger. And most of all it is cheap. It costs less than the DVD player in the SUV that some of my neighbors drive. The Nano is unlikely to be another Yugo: India is not in danger of breaking up, destroying its supply chain. The dream is that will be the next Volkswagen Bug. More likely it will be the next Trabant. Not too bad.

Whether the Nano succeeds or not, it is part of a larger trend. This is what engineering for the masses will look like in the future. What the iPod did to the record industry and the arxiv did to costly journals is about to happen to many well-established businesses.

So what do the $2,500 car and the $200 laptop tell us? Driving and computing are not the only things that can be done much cheaper and smaller. (more…)

Medieval Navigation in the Arabian Sea

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Read First: Longitude Zero

Indians call the bay between Africa and India the Arabian Sea. Throughout the medieval times it was controlled by Arab sailors. They established settlements down the East coast of Africa, as far down as Malindi in Kenya. (more…)

Longitude Zero

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Continued in: Medieval Navigation in the Arabian Sea

One of the early achievements of Indian Mathematical Astronomy (jyotisha) was the system of latitude (aksha-amsa) and Longitude (rekha-amsa). The prime meridian passed through Ujjaini, the capital of the country of Avanti. (more…)

The Almanack

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

What is the date today? A simple question, but with a complex answer.
Poor Richards Almanack
The story of calendars is the story of human civilization itself. The millenial 1 article by Amartya Sen tries to disentangle fact from fantasy in the history of calendars. Never an easy task in history, especially hard in the keeping of time itself. (more…)

White Elephants

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

NASA claims that at The International Space Station (ISS) , “astronauts are working to improve life on Earth”. Originally supposed to cost under $10B, it has cost at least 30 billion of our tax dollars so far; maybe even $100B. It was given the go ahead even as the Superconduting SuperCollider (SSC) was shut down as too expensive. (more…)