Monthly Archives: June 2012
Readers of the comic Calvin and Hobbes will perhaps be familiar with the strip where Calvin is seen lugging around a huge block. When Hobbes asks him what it is, he claims it is an invention of his. A writer’s block. When placed on a desk, writing there becomes impossible. Mindful of the fact that there will be people who may not have read the strip I’m referring to, I take the precaution of not revealing the punch line. The strip can be found at http://cdn.svcs.c2.uclick.com/c2/de163e8c250c102d94d7001438c0f03b. Every time I come across that strip, I cannot help wishing the reverse were true. That just removing an actual, physical, tangible block from a desk would automatically let the words flow. Reading, mercifully, is free of all blocks, isn’t it? Nothing should be easier than just curling up with something to read and reading it from cover to cover, is it not? Perhaps, today, the answer is not yes.
An editorial by Prof. Balaram in the journal Current Science (2011, 101, 133) asks whether it is possible that the internet, Google in particular, is declining our cognitive abilities. The article cites a study which indicates that people secure in the knowledge that they have ready access to sources of information (such as, for example, on the internet) were less likely to remember information, preferring instead to store an index to that information, viz a possible source of that information. Today, one doesn’t even have to go far to access the internet. The prevalence of tabs and smartphones has brought the internet closer to us. We have information at our fingertips, literally. Has this changed us? Reduced our memory and attention spans? Thus making it harder than it was before to read long books or articles? We, who are getting more and more acclimatized to reading short messages, headlines and bullet points from the internet, when faced with a long article, are we taking to just skimming the surface and not reading in depth? And find our attention wandering when we try to read something which is even moderately long? Disturbing though it is, it may well be true.
We must not forget this ready access to information does give us a lot of advantages. To take a small example, before the advent of the internet and online publication of journals, the literature survey undertaken by students embarking on their research careers bore a resemblance to archeological surveys. Information had to be excavated or dug out. Trips to the library, often to those located in other institutions if the student’s parent institution did not boast of access to many journals. Searching through musty bound volumes of archived journals. Having to physically read through an article that seemed relevant to actually determine if it was indeed relevant. Looking for referenced articles meant another trip down the corridors of the library. Storing information for later use was done by jotting down, or photocopying sections of the article.
Readers of this newsletter who have done all this will surely agree that today, we students have it easy. Articles are available at the click of a button, eliminating the need to go anywhere. Articles are published online, sometimes ahead of their being published in print format. So there is no waiting time involved to access the latest findings. A simple Ctrl+F helps determine whether the article pertains to what we are looking for, reducing the time to zero down on relevant articles. Related references are now hyperlinked to the original article. And lastly, if an article looks promising, bookmarking it, saving it to the computer or printing it out can be done almost instantly. Life has indeed become very easy.
But maybe this ease-of-access is really our undoing. After all, as they say, it is easy come, easy go. When searching, retrieving and storing information becomes so easy, the information loses its value. How many times do we actually go back and read in full, an article that was earmarked by us for later reading? In fact, even when reading an article for the first time, we are more likely to skim through the article knowing that we can always get back to reading it later.
While reading the editorial by Prof. Balaram, I couldn’t help wondering… Can the internet and other ‘modern’ forms of communication have also affected the way we write? Communicating through social networking sites and blogs, instant messaging and SMSes. Rapid forms of communication, all of them. Where grammar gives way to brevity, emoticons (smileys) are used in lieu of words to express emotions and feelings and spelling is thrown out of the window. ‘Fine’ becomes ‘f9’, ‘late’ becomes ‘l8’, and so on. An untrained recipient of messages filled with such cryptic abbreviations or someone who is a stickler for grammar is quite likely to pull out his/her hair in frustration or try to find a cryptologist to decode such cryptic messages. Can all of this have begun to affect the way we write? Making reaching for words and remembering how to spell or punctuate more difficult than before? Maybe. Maybe not.
I personally believe there is some effect. I for one, have had to resist the impulse of putting in an emoticon at many points in this piece, and search for appropriate words instead. Yes, at times, having to take Google’s help as well. Something which I do not recall having done earlier. Ever.
The authors of today too churn out works that seem to reflect this change. The language used is drab and conventional at best. With sketchy descriptions of scenes and characters. No longer do we find authors who devote pages to creating an atmosphere, who take pains to describe characters in such detail that one can almost see them. No one makes us laugh as much or uses English in as inventive a fashion as Wodehouse (okay, I admit perhaps that is too big a yardstick to measure against). No author leaves us in knots trying to figure out whodunit the way Agatha Christie did, making us suspect practically everyone; or take us on flights of fancy and on fantastic and futuristic journeys the way J. R. R. Tolkien or Jules Verne did. Instead, today, we have writers (especially in India) who take pride in writing books employing what I can only call ‘bad English’ and are callous enough to defend that by saying they (okay, I’ll be specific. I’m quoting one author here, so he) he is writing for the masses who cannot speak better. To me, such a justification is an even greater crime than just writing poorly, because it indicates writing bad deliberately, and displaying an apathy towards improving.
While I take the liberty to state all this, I feel compelled to add that I am very selective as a reader. I stick to a narrow band of authors and genres, and have read extensively in them. So my views on this matter may very well be opinionated and biased. I wouldn’t mind expanding my literary repertoire and if my views on authors old and new are in any way wrong, I look forward to being corrected. So do write to us (to firstname.lastname@example.org) telling us your views and opinions on books, authors, or anything under the sun, actually. Or you might prefer commenting on our site (www.iisc.ernet.in/voices).
While on the topic of books and authors, I know a sizable fraction of our readers, both on campus and off it, reads. And reads a lot. To them, I ask. What have you read lately? Have you read a book and can’t wait to talk about it? Review it so that others know whether to invest their time reading it? Well, if the answer is a yes, we, at Voices have some good news for you. We received a wonderful suggestion from one of our readers which we’re implementing from this month. A new monthly feature titled ‘On My Bookshelf’ which will feature book reviews that you send us (some, we might just write ourselves, if the temptation to raise our voice and let ourselves be heard becomes too compelling).
So keep reading. And keep writing (in)!
K. Vijayanth Reddy (ECE/CeNSE)
Banner in the Sky – by James Ramsey Ullman
“Dream on, dream on, till your dream comes true”
Everyone said the Citadel could not be climbed. It stood great, terrible and alone, amidst the other mountains of the Alps. Several men had dreamt of climbing it, but only one was brave enough to try and realise his dream – although he died in the process. Now, his son Rudi wanted to scale it, to stand atop it and proudly plant his banner in the sky. To live the dream.
Don’t we all have a childhood dream? A deep burning desire that calls out to us from time to time? This book by James Ramsey Ullman is about one such dream that fills the mind and the soul of a boy. The dream of conquering an insurmountable peak. Based on his experiences as a mountaineer and the story of the ascent of Matterhorn, the author describes the expedition to scale the Citadel. The peak, although fictitious, has been described in such detail that one can almost picturise it, with its cliffs, ridges, towers and chimneys; huge and formidable.
The book also describes the life of alpine guides and the code they live by. The tale proceeds slowly at first, but picks up pace midway and becomes un-put-downable. While it is categorised as a children’s book, it holds enough thrills for adult readers too.
Comments: Easy, enjoyable and enchanting read.
Chetana Baliga Nabar (MBU)
Illustration: K. Vijayanth Reddy (ECE/CeNSE)
“Mirror mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?”
“Chubby cheeks, dimple chin. Rosy lips, teeth within. Curly hair… Very fair”
“Wanted convent educated, slim, fair girl”
“Black out, white in”
Fairy tales, nursery rhymes, matrimonial ads and the cosmetic world have time and again stressed on the importance of being fair. Been a while since they have traversed even gender boundaries (http://www.fairandhandsome.net; http://www.boldsky.com/beauty/body-care/2007/men-cosmetics-fairness-creams.html), with men being coaxed to look fair.
Not that the Indian market needs this much coaxing, it is steeped in this dream for a fairer world and abhorrent of anything dark or dusky (2011: The constant preference for fair skin has resulted in the market for fairness creams and bleaches touching Rs 2,000 crore. Of this, fairness creams account for approximately Rs 1,800 crore, while bleaches make up about Rs 200 crore of the annual sale figures. Source:http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20111106/spectrum/main1.htm). The latest ad that promises women fairness in private areas has taken the society by storm (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18268914). While many groups have come out against the ad, the sale of the product is on.
I was once told that all the dark girls are jealous of fair girls and so we are agitated by these ads. Looks like many people just miss the point. Someone being naturally fair is an interplay of various genetic aspects. The worrisome thing is to believe that fair is good, fair is desirable, fair is the norm and everything on the other side of the continuum is not good, undesirable and not the norm! Many who diligently use these fairness creams for over decades may feel that it is a matter of personal choice if they want to turn the skin from dark to fair and please the mirror on the wall. I wish to tell them, “you are beautiful irrespective of the color of the skin and learn to love yourself for what you are”.
Psychologists could argue the impact on adolescents, sociologists could see the societal anomaly this is giving rise to, feminists could have a different take and view this as oppression; the fact of the matter is that this is an infringement of human rights, an infringement of self-worth and an infringement of confidence.
It is disturbing to see this trend, see this loss of independence, witness education having little impact on mindsets. Not sure what can be done… But there sure are many questions that arise…
• Can we have a law that bans sale of such products and treatments? Or puts so much tax on them that the buyer thinks twice of the return on investment?
• Would we be destroying the desires of many by doing so?
• Does this have to be a part of parenting to teach your children that black, brown and wheatish are also colors, just like white is?
I do my bit by never buying anything that promises fairness; I’m happy being wheatish 🙂 But I guess my parents played a role in this. They never told me I am not good enough, they never told me my color determines my capability; they never behaved like my skin decided my self-worth. I remember an incident vividly just after my brother was born. He was the chubbiest, fairest and cutest baby around, having taken after my mom. We were at my native and an old grandmom passing by said, “maiya ta toh kaalo, pola ta khub forsha” (the daughter is black, your son is fair). Thank my stars that my parents are the way they are… the 8 year old me was in tears and my baba said, ” miki! kaalo jogoter aalo”… (miki, dark is the light of the world…). Thank you ma and baba!
Madhurima Das (MGMT)
As non-professional weekend cricketers, we pride ourselves in the knowledge of the game’s nuances. The best of the cricket pundits claim to be able to predict what the ball would do just by looking at the bowler’s hand at the point of release. And of course, we discuss the game off the field as well. One such occasion, a team-mate wanted to test my credentials. “Tell me whether it’s off-spin, leg-spin, doosra, googly or whatever” he blurted as he turned his arm over.
“Back of the hand facing the batsman. Now that has to be a googly” I insisted. Pat came the retort, “Sorry, NO ball”.
Lalit Patnaik (DESE)
Freed from its shackle
The Little Balloon Rose Up
Till the roof where it got stuck
A little bang here A little bang there
the little Balloon did try
To escape the roof it had struck
Little while later the roof did part………
Off rose the Balloon High Up!
(How did the roof part?
A thought not thought)
With Pride it Flew
The merrier it grew
The higher it flew
The shackles, the roof
The weaker the memory of these that grew
The stronger the turmoil within it grew
The higher it flew
The bigger it grew
Stretched beyond itself
It prayed for respite
Not one in sight
It broke into pieces – a hundred at a glance
Some say it was the helium
Some say it was the life
Shreya M. Ankolekar (MBU)
What will I do with my years too?
then I am given extra sum,
Of course, I was only given a few,
what I didn’t know would always come,
My time doctored for the wannabe doctor,
propter hoc, I hopped for the proctor,
O,Rate they said,
Just to be laid,
And get me some irreducible factor,
I was, then, a Finnish, so stop I may,
Dosed were all, but doesed they?
I was then askanced and very sly,
after morn they saw and asked some why,
I plied again and in vane,
the Wind I blew made them insane.
T’was bad ’nuff some three ears,
Fraught with drawing fears,
Was marked by some irking reveries
Oh boy! ‘M.Sc.’s are messy decrees.
Srikanth Pai (ECE)
Thank you for submitting your entries to our first theme based contest. We are hard at work trying to pick a winner. And it is turning out to be a very, very tough endeavor. It is going to be a very close competition. All the best to everyone! May the best article win!
The response we received for the contest was heartening. And encouraged by that, we have decided to continue the contest further. We are pleased to announce the next installment of the contest. The theme will again be humour. But the entries we seek this time must be limited to poems only. Mail your submissions to email@example.com.
The deadline for submissions is July 20, 2012. So pick up your pens and get the creative juices flowing!
The Voices Team
Could you face the nationwide challenge and compete to win exciting prizes? We think YES!
CodeforScience-India is about coding to help researchers do what they do best: make new discoveries and contribute to science. The challenge comprises of two parts, Concept Formulation (which is now closed) and Application Development. The ‘Concept Formulation Round’ of CodeforScience-India received exceptional response from participants all across India. It is now time to move on to the ‘Application Development Round’ from June 6 – July 15, which is another opportunity to showcase your talent and win exciting prizes upto Rs. 1,50,000! That’s not all…Our sponsors NVIDIA and Microsoft Research have special prizes for you.
Whether you participated in the ‘Concept Formulation Round’ or not, we invite you to participate in the ‘Application Development Round’. The challenge is open to professors, students, developers, and researchers in India with all levels of programming experience and subject matter expertise. Submissions will be judged by a panel of science experts from renowned academic institutions and commercial organization in India.
Check out the existing apps on the Applications Gallery and the eligible concept entries from Concept Formulation Round. You are free to use any of the eligible concept entries to build your application. Remember, resources such as SciVerse API documentation and sample codes, NVIDIA’s CUDA documentation, and Microsoft Academic Search API documentation are available on http://www.codeforscience.com/india/resources
This is an opportunity to show-off your creative talent and help accelerate science. Winners will be recognized and awarded by renowned experts from institutions across India and the winning apps will be showcased to over 15 million worldwide users of ScienceDirect and Scopus. So please join us in helping researchers do less searching and more discovering.
Regardless of participation in the challenge, we invite you to the CFS TALK & AWARDS on Sunday, 29 July at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore to learn about the latest tools and approaches that impact changes in the scientific research workflow. Tickets are free. So hurry up and register to book your seats!
So spread the word and we hope to see you represent your institution in this competition!
Team CodeforScience India
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VOICES has started a contest where we invite contributions on a particular theme every month. The winning entry will be published in our next issue with a special mention. The theme for the first instalment of this contest is humour and we invite readers to contribute articles related to the theme. The deadline for the same has been extended to 20th June, 2012. We request you to send in your contributions [email id: firstname.lastname@example.org] and we hope that Mamta Banerjee and analogous regimes are not watching.