Saturday, April 16

A 3,800-year journey from classroom to classroom

what a fascinating piece of news, for a man who is looking for his first clay tablet to somebody who loves history and mathematics and teaching, this is amazing news.

and this weekend I am going to go see the film on Ramanujam :)

Thirty-eight hundred years ago, on the hot river plains of what is now southern Iraq, a Babylonian student did a bit of schoolwork that changed our understanding of ancient mathematics. The student scooped up a palm-sized clump of wet clay, formed a disc about the size and shape of a hamburger, and let it dry down a bit in the sun. On the surface of the moist clay the student drew a diagram that showed the people of the Old Babylonian Period (1,900–1,700 B.C.E.) fully understood the principles of the “Pythagorean Theorem”1300 years before Greek geometer Pythagoras was born, and were also capable of calculating the square root of two to six decimal places.
Today, thanks to the Internet and new digital scanning methods being employed at Yale, this ancient geometry lesson continues to be used in modern classrooms around the world.
“This geometry tablet is one of the most-reproduced cultural objects that Yale owns — it’s published in mathematics textbooks the world over,” says Professor Benjamin Foster, curator of the Babylonian Collection, which includes the tablet. It’s also a popular teaching tool in Yale classes. “At the Babylonian Collection we have a very active teaching and learning function, and we regard education as one of the core parts of our mission,” says Foster. “We have graduate and undergraduate groups in our collection classroom every week.”
The tablet, formally known as YBC 7289, “Old Babylonian Period Mathematical Text,” came to Yale in 1909 as part of a much larger collection of cuneiform tablets assembled by J. Pierpont Morgan and donated to Yale. In the ancient Mideast cuneiform writing was created by using a sharp stylus pressed into the surface of a soft clay tablet to produce wedge-like impressions representing pictographic words and numbers. Morgan’s donation of tablets and other artifacts formed the nucleus of the Yale Babylonian Collection, which now incorporates 45,000 items from the ancient Mesopotamian kingdoms.

Discoverying the tablet's mathematical significance

The importance of the geometry tablet was first recognized by science historians Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs in their 1945 book “Mathematical Cuneiform Texts.”
“Ironically, mathematicians today are much more fascinated with the Babylonians’ ability to accurately calculate irrational numbers like the square root of two than they are with the geometry demonstrations,” notes associate Babylonian Collection curator Agnete Lassen.

Thursday, April 14

Touch (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

This article was truly amazing. I never knew how much complicated touch was. As a sense, I don't think we use it enough son. Cultural reasons no doubt but that's a shame. I think you draw closer to a person if you touch them. Keep touching them to be with them. Feel them. It's warmer. You feel better. A hug is like that. Full body touch. Wrapping yourself around somebody is a great feeling and it's related to touch. 
Here's a test you can do. Have you touched somebody with your eyes closed? Stop the other senses and just focus on how the touch feels. You'll feel different. It's a very subtle feeling. 
That doesn't mean you go about being creepy and touching everybody:) 
Hope you feel better today son. 

Touch (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
(via Instapaper)


Wednesday, April 13

Scientists reveal six elements for giving the perfect apology

I make a giant Number of mistakes kids. So many that it's spectacular. Combine that with my horrendous memory and number of interests, I'm usually pissing off somebody or other. And then I have to apologise. I'm now pretty good at it. Specially with all the practise I get. 

But I liked what this article had to say. I think it makes perfect sense to use this to make the perfect apology. No point in standing your ground. Apologise and move on. 

One to learn indeed. 

I'm so looking forward to the movie :) my hero! I just hope he is represented well in the film otherwise I'll be so disappointed. 



Scientists reveal six elements for giving the perfect apology

via MailOnline for iPhone

Fisher College of Business devised a six element list for giving the perfect apology. But if you're pressed for time, researchers say admitting fault and offering to repair the damage are critical.

Read full article

How the Universal Symbols for Escalators, Restrooms, and Transport Were Designed


This is a fascinating story about how these symbols came up. You may want to consider how other symbols would be drawn. 

You draw them in the birthday cards as well :) I just love your imagination and skill there :)



How the Universal Symbols for Escalators, Restrooms, and Transport Were Designed
(via Instapaper)

The down arrow and information symbols. (All symbols: Courtesy AIGA)

In 1977, several nursing mothers wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). They weren't happy. They objected to the new standardized symbol for "nursery," which depicted a baby bottle, and they wanted it changed.

Today, travelers rushing through an airport or pausing at a roadside rest stop barely notice the standard symbols that direct the flow of human traffic. The little rounded man indicating the restroom and his female partner with her triangular dress are too familiar to think twice about. The same goes for the ubiquitous No Smoking logo and the knife and fork symbol that point towards dinner.

But 40 years ago, when the DOT received the letters, the symbols were new, launched to help manage the crush of visitors for the U.S's Bicentennial celebrations. Symbols have long been helpful in transcending cultural and linguistic barriers—in the 20th century, they became particularly common in cities hosting the Olympics. When planning for the Bicentennial, the DOT realized that standard symbols could be used to direct international tourists as they enjoyed everything the country had to offer 200 years after its founding.

To determine what these symbols ought to look like, DOT approached the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the nation's oldest and largest professional design organization. Together, they reviewed hundreds of symbols in use around the world and set out to develop their own set that could convey diverse messages to America's tourists.

Currency exchange.

"I think about it as another assignment we did," says Roger Cook, whose graphic design firm Cook and Shanosky Associates Inc., was contracted by the AIGA to design the symbols. Today, Cook is 85 and retired but continues to work as an artist out of his home in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania. "We didn't make a killing on it," he laughs. But he acknowledges the thrill of knowing that his firm's work has reached so many people and will live on long after he and his partner, Don Shanosky, are gone.

Designing the initial 34 symbols took nearly a year, and the project was so intense that the firm worried they might lose other clients. In the pre-computer era, Cook and Shanosky drew hundreds of sketches on tracing paper and discussed them with the AIGA's project committee, turning in version after version of each symbol. The committee discussed each draft in exacting detail, returning pages of notes to Cook and Shanosky, which today fill a giant, overstuffed binder that Cook has kept for years.

The yellowing, typewritten notes cover nuances that most travelers today don't even notice. But that's good, Cook says. "People don't have time to sit and figure out what the symbol means." Good design should be about simplicity, and the committee's notes demonstrate the intensive process of what Cook describes as "deleting all the unnecessary dingbats and doodads without losing the impact of the message."

The universal symbol for restrooms.

Simplicity began with the male figure. The character built upon previous stylized figures from earlier symbol sets, but Cook and Shanosky's own sleek, no-details figure set the tone for the other symbols in the DOT set. The figure has since been dubbed Helvetica Man by the designers Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, a name Cook appreciates. Like many designers, he has a deep respect for the font Helvetica and its clean, no-frills appearance.

Creating simple, easily understood symbols required that the designers grasped the essence of what they were trying to communicate. Understanding the basics of the human form is relatively easy, and even differentiating gender with Helvetica Woman's dress seemed a straightforward enough task. But the design team also needed to tackle more complex, abstract subjects. For example, how do you portray authority—what makes Helvetica Man official? Apparently, a hat is the answer, and a sash across his chest and waist, as shown in the symbols for customs and immigration (in the pre-TSA days, the design group dismissed a similar symbol for airport security, noting that it's "not an official person who does security"). It's strangely effective; there's nothing like an official-looking hat to give a person an air of authority.

"Helvetica Man" as a customs officer, with his official hat and sash.

The discussions at the meetings covered the minutiae of Helvetica Man's many escapades as the designers placed him in the various situations needed to convey messages to travelers. His posture as he sits in a waiting room chair was of concern, and the notes on the Waiting Room symbol are filled with maternal chiding: "Make person sit up straight," and "Figure should not be too slouched." Waiting rooms, it turns out, are not happy places. Helvetica Man shouldn't be too comfortable, or people might get confused.

There was also a debate about whether to include Helvetica Man in the symbol for stairs. Look at the design we know today—a single line, bent into ascending or descending right angles—and it's hard to think anything except "stairs." But before there was a universal symbol, it was unclear how much detail was necessary, and the committee thought a figure using the stairs might make the symbol clearer. Eventually, they took him out, concerned that his inclusion leaned too much towards an illustration, rather than a symbol. But they made the opposite decision for the escalator symbol, deeming the escalator without Helvetica Man too abstract to be specific.

Early sketches for the "stair" symbol included a Helvetica figure, which designers later removed to make the symbol simpler, although they kept him in the "escalator" symbol. (Photo: Cook and Shanosky Associates, Inc.)
The symbols for stairs and escalator. The stairs symbol has no person present, as it was felt it looked too much like an illustration. However for the escalator, the person was seen as sufficiently abstract.

The committee debated whether to include Helvetica Man's arm as he takes a drink from a water fountain, eventually deciding that the arm was needed to show he's not bowing to the fountain. Should the No Dogs dog have a rounded nose or a squared off one? Rounded, consistent with Helvetica Man, won. Did the man with a raised arm and a suitcase, signaling passenger pick-up at arriving flights, look like he's hailing a cab or waving to a friend? Could he be mistaken for curbside check-in? The symbols were drawn and redrawn until everyone—the DOT, the AIGA, the designers, even the friends and family the designers sometimes ran their ideas by—was satisfied.

When the committee had finalized 34 symbols, the DOT initially debuted them in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Williamsburg, VA. The department also urged their adoption by federal, state, and transportation authorities, and soon they were everywhere. The New York Times announced their arrival, and they were introduced to millions of schoolchildren in the classroom magazine My Weekly Reader. Johnny Carson even did a segment on them.

Requests rolled in for symbols to meet unaddressed needs—a fire extinguisher; a "no weapons" icon. The Consulate General of Iran wrote to request a "no photography" symbol. Cook and Shanosky worked with the AIGA and the DOT to add 16 additional symbols in 1979 and five more in 1985. They changed one of the three male figures riding in an elevator to a female figure. And they assented to the requests of the nursing mothers, swapping the bottle for Helvetica Baby, who today tells parents all over the world where they can change their own babies' diapers.

The baby symbol, which replaced the baby bottle.

In 1985, Cook and Shanosky's firm won an inaugural Presidential Design Excellence Award for the symbol project. But for Cook, there's also a less tangible reward. "We've told more people where to go," he says. "We probably have the record on that."

Monday, April 11

Indian Cotton Textiles and the Senegal River Valley in a Globalising World: Production, Trade and Consumption, 1750- 1850

this was a fascinating phd dissertation

This thesis addresses how and why West African consumers, especially those along the Senegal River valley, imported and consumed Indian cotton textiles from the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, despite the fact that they produced textiles of various kinds. Using quantitative and qualitative sources collected from France, India, Senegal and the United Kingdom, the thesis fulfils this gap in the existing literature. Throughout this study, it will be shown that local textile production and consumption in West Africa based on factor endowments and natural environment shaped consumer demand and preferences for Indian cotton textiles whose quality was perceived to be more suitable to the life of inhabitants in the region (especially in the savannah and desert areas) than European textiles. In addition, Indian textiles not only suited conspicuous consumption among Africans but also regional economies in which cloth was used as an exchange medium. In the eighteenth century, West African demand for Indian cotton textiles of various types was central to the purchase by European merchants of slaves along coastal areas of West Africa. In the early nineteenth century, which witnessed the transition from the Atlantic slave trade to the trade in commercial agriculture, dark-blue cotton textiles produced in Pondicherry, called ‘guinĂ©es’, were of essential importance in the trade in gum Arabic in the lower Senegal River as a currency that replaced a domestically-produced cloth currency. The gum from the region was indispensable in the development of the textile industry in Western Europe at that time. This regional demand influenced the Euro-West African trade and the procurements by Europeans of cotton textiles in India. The thesis argues that historically constructed consumer agency in pre-colonial West Africa had global repercussions from the eighteenth to midnineteenth century. 

Most fascinating story of Indian Ocean trade in textiles and interconnections with slavery