Friday, July 26

The Surprising History of the Pencil


A fascinating history of the pencil. I didn't realise they were made in England fairly close. We have been to Keswick and yes there is a pencil museum there :)

But I still prefer a pen. A fountain pen. It has a different kind of romance to it. There is a technique to it. You have to do things, clean the nib. Wipe it. Pour in ink with a dropper. Make a mess. Break off one point. Leak all over your shirt or notebook. The rasp of the nib as it runs over the slightly rough paper. 

I visited the Petrie museum the other day and saw several ink pots.


Can you imagine? dipping your reed pen into the ink and then rasping across the papyrus? And that made me wonder about our ancestors and what they wrote. 


How about this one? The ancient Mexica who wrote and drew these glyph books? Can you see the richness? You won't get that feeling with a bic. 

Anyway. I'm being a boring old reminiscing father now.



The Surprising History of the Pencil | Brain Pickings

by Maria Popova

What medieval smuggling has to do with the atomic structure of carbon.

Having previously explored such mysteries as who invented writing and how sounds became shapes, it’s time to turn to something much less mysterious, a seemingly mundane yet enormously influential tool of human communication: the humble pencil.

“Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak,” states the first of Margaret Atwood’s 10 rules of writing. “But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.” But even though the pencil has fueled such diverse feats of creative culture as celebrated artists’ sketchbooks, Marilyn Monroe’s soulful unpublished poems, Lisa Congdon’s stunning portraits, and David Byrne’s diagrams of the human condition, it has only been around for a little over two hundred years. In the altogether fascinating 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains Your World (public library), John D. Barrow tells the story of this underrated technological marvel:

The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. The magic material that was so appropriate for the purpose was the form of pure carbon that we call graphite. It was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the fifteenth century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier. Initially it was believed to be a form of lead and was called ‘plumbago’ or black lead (hence the ‘plumbers’ who mend our lead water-carrying pipes), a misnomer that still echoes in our talk of pencil ‘leads’. It was called graphite only in 1789, using the Greek word ‘graphein’ meaning ‘to write’. Pencil is an older word, derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning ‘little tail’, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages.

Thursday, July 25

Dominick Dunne on His Daughter's Murder

This story moved me like nothing. I was reading the story on the tube and suddenly it became very dusty. 

As the old quote goes, no man should have to bury his child. That would be painful enough. But to have my child murdered? And then to sit through a trial like this? That would require the patience and forbearance of a saint. I wouldn't have been able to do so. My little princess being hurt? Wouldn't disembowelling and then shoving the living carcass into a diving chamber at full blast be an apt response? 

Dominick Dunne on His Daughter's Murder | Vanity Fair

Crime and Punishment


A father’s account of the trial of his daughter’s killer.

It was the beginning of a long hot summer. I flew to Los Angeles on July 5, 1983, for an indefinite stay. Throughout the flight from New York I engaged in diligent conversation with the stranger next to me, postponing as long as possible facing the feelings of dread within me. My two sons, Griffin and Alex, had preceded me out from New York. Alex, the younger one, met me at the airport, and we drove into Beverly Hills to the house where my former wife, Ellen Griffin Dunne, called Lenny, lives. Griffin was already there. It is not the house we lived in as a family. It is smaller and on one level. Lenny has multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. We were gathering, a family again, for a murder trial.

The first time I saw Lenny she was getting off a train at the railroad station in Hartford, Connecticut. She was ravishing, and I knew that instant that I would marry her if she would have me. We had a large wedding at her family’s ranch in Nogales, Arizona, in 1954, and after living briefly in New York, we moved to Beverly Hills, where I worked for twenty-five years in television and films. We had five children, two of whom died when they were only a few days old. Long divorced, we have, rightly or wrongly, never become unmarried. Often I have felt through the years that our lives might have been better if we had just stuck out the difficult years of our marriage, but I do not know if she would agree with that. We never venture into the realm of what might have been. I refer to her in conversation as my wife, never my ex-wife, and there is not a day in which she does not occupy my thoughts for some period of time. We communicate regularly and mail each other clippings we cut out of newspapers, and I no longer resent, as I once did, addressing her as Mrs. E. Griffin Dunne rather than as Mrs. Dominick Dunne.

When the telephone in my New York apartment woke me up at five o’clock in the morning on October 31, 1982, I sensed as I reached for the receiver that disaster loomed. Detective Harold Johnston of the Los Angeles Homicide Bureau told me that my twenty-two-year-old daughter, Dominique, was near death at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I asked him if he had notified my wife. He said he was calling from her house. Lenny got on the phone and said, “I need you.”

“What happened?” I asked, afraid to hear.

“Sweeney,” she answered.

“I’ll be on the first plane.”

Wednesday, July 24

Our Orgastic Future

An interesting article son on how bonobos are forcing us to change how we look at how we evolved. It looks like while we have evolved from chimps, we still have a way to go before we teach bonobos. At least in some behavioural patterns. 

Take the human distaste for homosexuality. Religious thick heads. Right wing morons. And other assorted idiots hate gays. Why? No intellectual coherent answer. Saying that god said so just tells me that you are simply a moron who does not have the capacity to think for themselves. In other words, they are below living beings. Thick as a stone.  Remember son, libertarianism. Liberalism. Individual rights. As long as your exercise of your rights does not impinge on somebody else's rights, you do what you want. 



Our Orgastic Future - Lapham’s Quarterly

Precisely when the ancient primates who preceded us Homo sapiens actually turned the corner to become human is one of those running battles in anthropology. Theorists scrutinize the long arc of gradual evolution to find a slight nick in the curve and there, it’s argued, our glorious ascent begins: when we began to walk upright, when we grunted out the first phonemes of speech, when we fabricated the earliest tools. Simply invoke the phrase “savannas of Africa” and inside our minds blooms a tiny movie, the tale of humanity’s bloody contest with and eventual triumph over nature somewhere around the time we left the security of dense jungles for the more progressive world flourishing at the forest’s edge.

This little drama, our secular genesis myth, divides early humanity into male hunter-gatherers and fireside female domestics. The men boldly marched out each morning with their spears and clubs to bring down a mammoth, while the women tended the fire and kept up the stores of food and clothing. Some twenty thousand years ago, life was basically the painting Neanderthal by Frank Frazetta. It’s so easy to flatter ourselves with this cartoon—hunting aurochs and taking down mammoths sounds strong and macho, but alternate theories have long suggested that a great deal of early protein probably came from more manageable prey, like vermin or deer. Spearing rabbits wouldn’t inspire Frazetta, nor, apparently, the Paleolithic artists at Lascaux, either. Which is why we’ve been spinning some version of this PR story ever since the Aurignacian-Perigordian people of southern France first scratched the smooth walls of a cave with a piece of bone.

A recent theory from Robert Sussman and Donna Hart holds that perhaps a great deal of our finest human traits may well have been refined by our ability to “evade predators.” According to scientific estimates, Sussman and Hart argue, some “6 percent to 10 percent of early humans were preyed upon according to evidence that includes teeth marks on bones, talon marks on skulls, and holes in a fossil cranium into which sabertooth cat fangs fit,” and so we were under intense evolutionary pressure to develop a different kind of skill: running away. “Many of our modern human traits, including those of cooperation and socialization,” may have come from escaping predators, not hunting them. The glorious history of Homo sapiens may have less in common with the feral troglodytes found in The Clan of the Cave Bear than with Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Tuesday, July 23

Wilful Ignorance – the case of Allah Hafiz

Note the usage of Allah hafiz son. Don't say anything to them but you know that they are people who don't know their culture and more importantly are suffering from an inferiority complex. The number of people who are more Arab than Arabs or claiming descent from the prophet are legion.  Fascinating. Heh. 

that said, the little I know of Urdu and Farsi leaves me constantly amazed. The amount of interactions we have had with Iran and its glorious culture is amazing. Speak to any Iranian and see how they react to Arabs but that’s just me being naughty. More seriously, I would say that a very significant part of the cultural history of India, specially with respect to the Mughal Empire, has a huge debt to pay to Iran and Farsi. Is that why India keeps on helping Iran with its sanctions? :)



Wilful Ignorance | OPEN Magazine

20 July 2013

Urdu originated as a mix of several languages spoken during the Sultanate era in Delhi. Those who reject the language now are rejecting their own legacy


Tagged Under | Delhi | legacy | Urdu


Urdu was an eclectic mix of Turki, Farsi, Braj, Khadi Boli and other local dialects that emerged during the Sultanate era in Delhi and its environs from the 12th century onwards.

I know that it is a moral failing, but I have never been able to summon any sympathy for the ignorant. In this day and age there are so many ways and means of getting information that it takes a great deal of effort to stay ignorant. Those who stay without knowledge in today’s world are those who have made an effort not to know, and it is difficult to sympathise with this.

One example of such wilful ignorance is the increasing use of the term ‘Allah hafez’ among South Asian Muslims. This is a twisting of the Farsi term ‘Khudahafez’, which translates as ‘May God take care of you’ and is used as goodbye. In fact, ‘goodbye’ is itself a contraction of the old English term ‘God be with ye’, so it’s an almost exact translation. But for some people, ‘khudahafez’ no longer suffices, and instead of ‘May God take care of you’, they prefer to say, ‘May Allah take care of you’.

It is a distinction without a difference. ‘Khuda’ is Farsi for ‘God’ and the Arabic term ‘Allah’ is a contraction of the words ‘al ilah’—or ‘the god’. Insisting on ‘Allah, not khuda’, thus, is the equivalent of insisting on ‘God, not God’. At best, it signals a preference for Arabic instead of Farsi. What sounds silly is when an Arabic term ‘Allah’ is forced into a Farsi phrase, leaving it neither Farsi nor Arabic but a mockery of both.

Monday, July 22

So how did the Catholics respond to evolution?

A fascinating article.

This article discusses Catholic responses to evolution between 1859, the year of publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and 2009, the year in which the scientific world celebrated its 150th anniversary. Firstly, I will discuss how the Vatican initially responded to evolution in the period between 1859 and 1907, the year in which Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis. Secondly, I will explore the responses of Catholic authorities and intellectuals and identify the local factors that influenced their responses. Also, I will demonstrate that, gradually, Catholics have shifted towards a more lenient position concerning evolution. Thirdly, I will demonstrate that, in the end, the Vatican has complied with this pattern. In general, this article shows that not only Protestants, but Catholics too have struggled to come to terms with evolution and evolutionary theory and that local factors had an impact on these negotiations.

One laughs at people who do not believe in Evolution. Seriously, no? they belong at the same level of people who believe the world is flat. But then, this is quite common. I mean, I heard somebody talk about how mountains had pegs inside them. No, seriously. Here’s the argument.


See those troughs? those are supposed to be pegs. Now I studied geography at the masters level while I was preparing for the IAS and my mum’s a professor of Geography. Do believe I have a nodding acquaintance with geography, plate tectonics and geomorphology. Here are few schematics which you may find more appropriate.



Ok so lets see some siesmological evidence on the Himalayas.


This is a seismic perspective of Yunnan South West China, the Eastern Himalayas. a depth of 17-56kms. Can you see pegs? If you are interested in mucking around with this topic, here’s a great overview. A step exists, but no pegs I am afraid.


Here’s another cross section.


So what does the blessed people say? I quote from the Islamic site:

This is how the Quran has described mountains.  God has said in the Quran:

Have We not made the earth as a bed, and the mountains as pegs?  (Quran, 78:6-7)

Modern earth sciences have proven that mountains have deep roots under the surface of the ground (see figure 9) and that these roots can reach several times their elevations above the surface of the ground.2  So the most suitable word to describe mountains on the basis of this information is the word ‘peg,’ since most of a properly set peg is hidden under the surface of the ground.  The history of science tells us that the theory of mountains having deep roots was introduced only in the latter half of the nineteenth century.3

Mountains also play an important role in stabilizing the crust of the earth.4  They hinder the shaking of the earth.  God has said in the Quran:

And He has set firm mountains in the earth so that it would not shake with you... (Quran, 16:15)

Likewise, the modern theory of plate tectonics holds that mountains work as stabilizers for the earth.  This knowledge about the role of mountains as stabilizers for the earth has just begun to be understood in the framework of plate tectonics since the late 1960’s.5

Could anyone during the time of the Prophet Muhammad  have known of the true shape of mountains?  Could anyone imagine that the solid massive mountain which he sees before him actually extends deep into the earth and has a root, as scientists assert?  A large number of books of geology, when discussing mountains, only describe that part which is above the surface of the earth.  This is because these books were not written by specialists in geology.  However, modern geology has confirmed the truth of the Quranic verses.

heh. Anyway, that was funny, I was hiccupping with laughter when I finally managed to close my mouth. But then when people believe in this kind of stuff as a faith item, then one cannot say anything, you can believe that the moon is made of green cheese and that’s fine. But don't give me the bumph about it being scientific. But then the argument remains, remember people who believe in the infallibility of religion go about doing some pretty bad things. We have seen so many examples of how people committed genocide because of religion down the ages. One chap even got sentenced to life in prison for doing that in Bangladesh. These are the people who believe in crap like this.

So how did the Catholics end up reconciling evolution with religion? It took time. It took almost a century since the publication of the On the Origin of Species in 1859 till middle of the last century for the Vatican to reconcile itself with Evolution even though it has serious issues still with evolution of human morality and intelligence. Similarly Islam and other religions will also evolve. If not, people will write more books like this and people will foam at the mouth like here. read the reviews of the people who object to the book. Hilarious. Before you object, there are other books like this, like this one for christians, and this one and this one for Hindus. Here’s an interesting one about Buddhism.