Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Star is Dead

One of the most impressive discoveries was the origin of the energy of the stars, that makes them continue to burn. One of the men who discovered this was out with his girl friend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going on in the stars in order to make them shine. She said "Look at how pretty the stars shine!"
He replied, "Yes, and right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine."

- Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures
I always envy people who can identify constellations, an ability I have never been able to develop beyond the basic Ursa-major level. But it must be good to have friends up there, so, when you look up, you can give Auriga, or some other constellation you recognize, a good-natured wave or a pranaam(which will duly reach in 5000-odd years), before carrying on with this tale told by an idiot.

I was fortunate to be working on a project with a few astronomers for a while, and their passion sort of rubs off. I am still not on talking terms with the stars. The good news is that I now enjoy gaping at those pretty pictures as much as the next yokel.

Hubble snapped the picture above yesterday, of an extremely photogenic white dwarf around 4000 light years away.

You might remember that the Sun will die as a white dwarf too, but now you get to see it. The barely visible white dot in the middle will be the Sun(shrunk to the size of earth), and the glittering expanse of millions of miles of gases, a mixture of helium, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, smoking hot at around 200,000 C and emitting ultraviolet rays, will easily reach earth.

Trust a poet to get it wrong: the world will end with a bang after all.

Check out Hubble's website for truly awe-inspiring photographs.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Odd that the brain could function on its own, without acquainting him with its purposes, its reasons. But the brain was an organ, like the spleen, heart, kidneys. And they went about their private activities. So why not the brain.

-Philip K. Dick (The Man Who Japed)

Really, when you think about it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I swear on the bones of Charles Darwin....

One evolutionist actually does say that in Flock of Dodos. In his defense, a) he is drunk, and b) he is very very angry.

Directed by Randy Olson, evolutionary biologist and two-time TA for Stephen Jay Gould, Flock of Dodos tries to understand why, what should have been game-set-match for the evolutionists, is running into tie-breaker after tie-breaker.

Olson thinks it is because most scientists are ugly, don't suffer fools, don't look good on TV, and couldn't speak in 'talking points' to save their lives.

Intelligent Design proponents, on the other hand, seem to speak only in talking points. Every ID fan Olson talks to raises the same arguments, such as, how just as anyone can tell that Mount Rushmore has to be intelligently designed, it is obvious that life too is, then some platitudes about irreducible complexity, and claims that biologists intentionally lie and mislead (picked from Wells' Icons of Evolution). On the other hand, they are always nice, never condescend, some even carry around helpful little photographs of Mt. Rushmore with them to make their point. The ones you get to meet are bearded old gentlemen or loving grandmas (all the bible thumpers having been pushed to the back pews).

Olson makes this point wonderfully when he asks a scientist (I forget who), "Their catchphrase is teach the controversy. What is your catchphrase?" The scientist is stumped, "Catchphrase?" Ultimately he comes up with 'Teach the Science', which is not so bad, if only someone used it.

The best part about Flock of Dodos is that it is constantly funny, never takes itself seriously, and remembers its own lesson and never condescends.

And yes, Happy Darwin Day.
If people remember your 198th birthday, that is a very special achievement.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Koi Sukha Hua Patta tha...

Nida Fazli reads his beautiful nazm valid ke vafat par (on the death of my father) here. He was unable to attend his father's funeral because he could not afford the journey.

You can also listen to his hamd (in praise Of God). Its certainly the quirkiest hamd one is likely to hear.

The South Asian Literary Recordings Project records the works of writers writing in different South Asian languages, in their own voice.

I have a fascination with poets reading their works. What a poet emphasizes, and what he/she does not, tells so much about how they interpret their own poems.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

One of the guys I frequently run into at my department kitchen uses one of these for his afternoon cuppa.

It always reminds me of that sequence from Annie Hall.

Annie: Sometimes I ask myself how I'd stand up under torture.

Alvy: You kiddin'? If the Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale's charge card, you'd tell 'em everything.

He is a nice guy and all, but c'mon, coffee mug Che is ridiculous. I know this sounds too glib: it puts the moron in oxymoron ;) .