Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pie Maths Galaxy ...

I came across "Galaxy of Mathematicians", Volume-1, published by the Pie Mathematics Association, Chennai. The book gives the brief life histories of Euclid, Archimedes, Pythagoras, Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Leibniz, Fermat, Gauss, Euler and Erdos along some of their important works. The life of Leibniz speaks of the 'Calculus Wars', his study of binary numbers, arrays/matrices leading to 'stepped reckoner (calculator)',and why he deserves the title, "Father of Applied Sciences". This is a good introduction to the original works of the authors mentioned.

The back cover text on the book says the publisher association is for removing mathphobia. Surely we need more such groups to grow and nurture mathematics!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Richard M Stallman: Code Guru Mahatma

The Mahatma was always part of life and the CD below, produced by Dr. Natesan of Krea was of great interest when it was released in the 1990s:

Walnut Creek CDROM published it. I first came to know of 'Linux' from the title card of this CD:

The CD on the Mahatma provided the first step in connecting to another rare modern Mahatma, Richard M Stallman, better known as 'RMS'. I would know about RMS and his work much later, but this was the start. The 'Gandhi' CDROM title card advertised 'Linux Slackware 96' as "Internet's favourite. Full PC UNIX", that left me curious about this UNIX for the PC.

The Internet was not ubiquitous a decade ago and CDROM was the main source for obtaining software. The first book I could lay my hands on the subject was Sam's "Learn Linux in 24 Hours". A free CD came with it:
The CD simply did not work. The book was interesting though. I very much wanted to see what the running 'Linux' OS screen looked like. The first opportunity to do that came at the Bangalore IT.COM fair, in 2000:

There was this large pavilion full of software systems, people, distros, shops and events - all busy at the same time. There was even a cluster running at a corner from a dozen mini-frames. Some stressed they were free and open. At the GT enterprises stall I got myself a couple of distros to try at home:

The pavilion filled my hands with pamphlets like this:

I tried installing Mandrake Linux and the screen came alive with the installation instructions. I never quite finished installing as there was some problem at the final step - I think I did not have a supported graphics card. I decided to shop for more distros, until I had a working system. After some time I visited Bangalore again, and had these options:

I decided I would give the SuSE 7.0 Professional edition a try. I carefully got a graphics card that was supported this time. YaST did a fine job installing the operating system, x server, applications and all - in about three hours time! I finally had a free operating system!

With free software, so many options and tools were available, and I spent most of my free time trying them out. Finally, after a month or so, I settled for the Apache Web Server with PHP for web scripting and PostgreSQL for data storage. The StarOffice package fulfilled all my word processing needs. There was a lot of excitement with graphics tools like GIMP and the load of games that came. It was initially tedious to work on the console most of the time but after getting a hang of it, it was clearly the way to do things. Man[ual] pages of many commands declared:
This is free software: you are free  to  change  and  redistribute  it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.

Author names like Paul Rubin, David MacKenzie, Richard Stallman, and Jim Meyaering came up on the console window. The SuSE 7.0 Handbook included a copy of the GNU General Public License in Appendix F:

The SuSE 7.0 box included this Oracle phamplet:

Oracle has done a lot for the free software movement in the past decade showing deep interest in Java, MySQL, OpenOffice etc. I also tried other distros that came my way. Charles Fisher wrote "Red Hat Linux 6.0 Administration Tools" and the book came with 2 CDs:
The book taught many installation procedures in a straight forward way.
Meanwhile, I had registered the 'Gandhi' CD with Walnut Creek CDROM, and they sent me their catalog:

I tried FreeBSD too, but the availability of applications on BSD was restricted by your ability to install and configure it correctly. I gave up even trying it after a while.

The Linux For You magazine was launched sometime in 2002 or so, and I came to know of ilugc from its lug listing and subscribed to the ilugc mailing list. I mostly lurked there, and sometime asked questions - and often got responses that helped a lot. I came to know of the fsf-friends mailing list through ilugc and joined there. RMS used to post occasionally to the fsf-friends mailing list, and soon I got involved in fsf-india activities. There was always one freedom issue or the other that was interesting. Communicating with RMS over email is one of the intellectual pleasures life had to offer, and to say the least, it was very useful and productive. I wrote to him about a JavaScript code I wrote, to calculate fair rent in accordance with the local rules here, as an example of the kind of coding I was doing to port law to computers. He was kind in replying as follows:

If this includes implementation of human-style common-sense
reasoning, you may have tackled a problem that the Artificial
Intelligence field has been struggling with for 35 years.

AI was the last on my mind then and it encouraged me to study about the struggle there. Soon, it took me to Lisp, AI by Winston, and the problem remained on my back-burner. The greatest advantage I derived from communicating with RMS was this innocuous line on AI that got me hooked to programming like never before. Incidentally, ancient Indian philosophical works started to appear very modern and relevant from the AI angle.

RMS had planned to come down to Chennai in Feb, 2005. It was my pleasure to plan some of the events for him here - mainly, the talk on 'Software Patents' here in Chennai. Bharati, AB, myself and other friends received RMS at the Chennai Airport. The flight was delayed by half an hour, and that gave Bharati and myself, time to go up to Pammal to get a couple of garlands for the code guru. We were delighted to meet him in person - he enjoyed the fragrance of the champangi garland! After the perfunctory introductions, RMS quickly got to opening his laptop and started working.

The first thing I noticed was his mastery over the keyboard. His hands just played over the laptop - I have never seen anyone else so proficient on the keyboard. The control, alt, function and every single key is naturally used so well in emacs. No time is wasted while coding. RMS is known for being the original author of the great 2Gs in the software spectrum: GCC and GPL. The road from Chennai to Vellore was under construction, and the journey was naturally tedious. It was not easy to stop by the road side for a tea break. RMS took all these little discomforts in his stride and stayed focused on work at hand punctuated by mail transfers. He spoke on software freedom at VIT and did his 'St. Ignucious-I bless your computer, my child' bit at the end of the the speech. He also played his recorder (pocket sized flute like pipe) both at VIT during dinner and at MIT after his short talk. RMS spoke on the dangers of 'Software Patents' at the IIT-M. The auditoriums were packed with students everywhere he went! A few pics from the events at VIT, IIT and MIT:

At the OLT, IIT-M:

At MIT, Chrompet:

He would have liked to listen to a carnatic recital that Chennai is so famous for - I hope that is part of the program the next time he visits Chennai. As he left, he gave me a firm hand shake and wished "Happy hacking".

In the Indian context, it is useful to distinguish between free and non-free systems:

Non-free Software Adharma:
● Non-free software system is
– unethical
– anti-social
– simply wrong
● Works by keeping users divided
● A co-operating community is forbidden
● Users are not allowed to change or share the software they use

Free Software Dharma
● Freedom to use the program for any purpose
● Freedom to study and modify its source code
● Freedom to redistribute copies to others
● Freedom to distribute modified versions to others

"Dharma" has no exact equivalent word in English (say, "Aram" அறம் in Tamil). It encompasses virtue , morality, good works according to right or rule, rightly, justly, according to the nature of anything. Adharma is unrighteousness, injustice, wickedness. Mahatma Gandhi said, "When adharma spreads, some men undertake tapascharya (penance) and through their tapascharya, generate dharma in the world". Free Software is a response to the non-free software adharma, and it very naturally explains work of the free software community to others. The free software movement has been led by the code guru very successfully and the burning desire for freedom inheres code development.

Over the past decade, free software systems have grown phenomenally from strength to strength. After the new version of the GPL came in 2007, I lost interest in fsf activities. The future programs are more likely to lie centered around stack based ones like forth in the public domain. Postscript and its derivatives like PDF are living proof for that. Given the massive parallel GPUs and CPUs rapidly moving towards exascale machines capable of 1018 calculations per second, it is very likely that simple stack based applications get priority because they are small, fast, secure, open and free. Maybe they would be hard too but other programs and tools should make the task of maintaining them easy.

The road to freedom is a hard one. I had the opportunity to travel along with RMS - the code guru mahatma - on the road to freedom for a short while, and I hope it would lead to solving the AI problem and end the long struggle.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Law and Science Choreography

Dr. C.V. Raman's lecture on 'Why the sky is blue' delivered at Community Science Centre in Amhedabad, in December 1968, is documented by Chandralekha, the dancer, so beautifully, along with the black and white pictures of the scientist by Dashrath Patel. 1 She heard the Nobel laureate declare: "The best way to answer a question is to ask another... One thing leads to another. That is the essence of science. You must go where it leads you."2 The choreographer took the message to heart. The book informs that Chandralekha, who made those notes, studied law in Mumbai, before moving to dance in Chennai. Even a mere still from her dances could enthrall and liberate - the inspiring book, meant for the young, is probably her best work! There could be no doubt that Raman's talk infused new blood into choreography that she pursued with the passion of a scientist. 3

The man who gave Raman the opportunity to make science a full-time career was Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee - who was a lawyer and then became a judge of the Calcutta High Court. The other scientists promoted by the learned judge include Satyendranath Bose and Saha. All this was possible because of the judge's keen interest in science and mathematics. Dr. G. Venkatraman credits the judge with contributing to science by encouraging at a crucial juncture, three of the best physicists the country had produced then: Bose, Saha and Raman.4

Bhagaban Chandur Bose, was Deputy Magistrate of Faridpur and in charge of the law and order in several villages. His son, SC Bose, the most illustrious scientist India has ever seen, grew up drawing endless inspiration from his father. The basic qualities shine as a scientist were imbibed from his father who kept his curiosities alive and well nourished.
'I saw so-and-so to-day : why was that ?'-was a standard type of question, and always patiently answered when possible; yet often-perhaps most important and educative of all for the future investigator-with a candid confession of ignorance, and never any of the evasion, or pretence of knowledge beyond a child's, which is so common a discouragement to children from parents less frank and wise. 'I don't know, my son : we cannot tell; we know so little about nature!' was thus a frequent reply : but instead of lowering the child's respect, as foolish parents and teachers fear, this only aroused further wonder, and kept curiosity and observation alive. In such ways it is that the questioning child later becomes the scientific man : and what scientific man worth the name in history is more than such a child of larger growth? The 'advancement of Science' is no such easy matters as founders of its schools and departments suppose. It requires a corresponding supply of men of science; these again are not the mere products of specialist training. Scientific training can only be of real service to the few survivors amidst the too common home and family indifference to knowledge. That is only advanced by those who, when children, were encouraged to observe and question, and were not silenced and dulled for life, like their elders before them, with 'Don't ask silly questions!' or evaded with 'I have no time!'5

The choreography between law and science should be fostered more than ever before now.

1 Chandralekha and Dashrath Patel, "Why the sky is blue: Dr. C.V. Raman talks about science", Tulika, December, 1968.
2 ibid.
3 Chandralekha quotes Dr. C.V. Raman, word for word from her notes in this UK TV interview at The Guardian (at noted that "Chandralekha became a crusader for equality, human rights, women's rights, secularism, pluralism and the environment", and as this was through her dances, she took choreography to new levels.
4 Dr. G. Venkatraman, "Bose and his statistics", 1992, Sangam Books.
5 Patrick Geddes, "The Life and Work of Sir Jagadis C. Bose", available online at

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Talk slides ...

The slides I have used in support of my talks last year, are available at the following links:
legal_codes_2010.pdf - 1.2 MB
ml_ipr_cnc_uom_2010.pdf - 497 KB
legal_remedies_for_esi_and_pf_issues.pdf - 404 KB

The first two were under the auspices of the Department of Legal Studies, University of Madras, and the last was at DOMS, Anna University. The most significant constitutional challenge of the times is about having more open societies, where the citizens actively participate in governance. This theme is also elaborated at Various computer programs and codes help in achieving this, and the first talk takes a look at how legal codes have evolved historically. The other talks take a look at coding from various perspectives.

Older talks:
calpp_ai_at_kec.pdf - 267.1 KB
calpp_ai_sjce.pdf - 472.7 KB
calpp_nlsiu.pdf - 286.0 KB
foss_licenses.pdf - 274.8 KB
tml_unicode.pdf - 634.2 KB


My thanks to for making the above file sharing possible.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Research papers of Dr. G.N. Ramachandran

The University of Madras [UoM] has contributed two Nobel laureates to the world: Dr. Sir C.V. Raman and Dr Subramaniam Chandrasekar. Raman's disciple Dr. G.N. Ramachandran, was invited to establish the Department of Physics at the UoM in 1950. The research work by Dr. GNR, as he was called, is most remarkable. He proposed the triple helix structure of collagen, the 'ramachandran plot' to *validate* protein structures, 3D tomography using convolution method - the basic algorithm that made CT-Scans possible, by 1970s. Thereafter, he wrote a number of papers on Syad Nyaya - may be theory - that now passes as "fuzzy logic". He died in 2001, and most obituaries lamented that the Nobel missed this master.

His most outstanding research paper would be on "Three-dimensional Reconstruction from Radiographs and Electron Micrographs: Application of Convolutions instead of Fourier Transforms" now also available at This work with A.V. Lakshminarayanan was the starting point for the development of CAT scan technique in radiography and later, magnetic resonance imaging.

He helped to lay foundations for bio-physics, and this branch of science has grown leaps and bounds ever since, in the recent decades.

The last leg of his career was devoted to writing the papers on what passes as fuzzy logic today. The links to the GNR paper on BA-2 are from to *693.pdf He profoundly realised the role of computing in science, and he is the greatest computer scientist India has given to the world, in recent times.

We have not made optimum use of the research by this great scientist. As a first step, all the research papers published by him need to be collated and published online.