Thursday, 22 July 2021

McCarthy, multiculuralism and me

John McCarthy is one of the towering giants of Computer Science. He is one of the founders of Artificial Intelligence, he developed the LISP programming language, and he also basically invented the concept of time-sharing computers.

In 1992, I was in my second year of the Computer Science program at Texas AandM University, pursuing a Master’s degree. Artificial Intelligence was one subject I took in the first semester. We learnt and programmed in LISP in that course. Robotics was another course I took in the first semester, and Expert Systems and Machine Learning were two courses I studied in the second semester. My ambition was AI.

Me in 1992, in my office at Texas A&M University

The Internet was mainly email and Usenet in those days. The WorldWideWeb was in its infancy but I saw my first web page only in 1994. Usenet was the precursor to the Web, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etcetera – a gigantic collection of bullettin boards on various topics.  I sometimes wasted time debating cricket, politics, cinema, Tamil language etc on some Usenet groups like soc.culture.indian, etc.  Perhaps the only useful thing I did was type in Kulasekara Azhwar's Perumal Tirumozhi in Adami software. It turns out that some other guy called Badri Seshadri was doing the same. But, ten-fold.

One random day, I read a post on multiculturalism, academic courses, Indian reformers banning sati etc. This was  a reply to a reply to an original post, and I added my comments without reading the orignial post. There was a reply soon after, and I noticed that the author was… John McCarthy. Computer Science Department, Stanford.

At first I thought it was some student with a famous name….Surely the father of AI wasn’t have a chat with me… Shortly thereafter I realized that it was indeed the same John McCarthy whose very LISP I had learnt the previous year. The SAIL in his email address was “Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab”.


For a while I was puzzled, though. Why is the Father of AI writing about multiculturalism and general college syllabus? I was studying in the most conservative large university in the USA, and I was fairly liberal then, so the woke liberalism of other colleges was a closed book to me then. Today his warnings and concerns seem realistic and reasonable. In 1992, I wondered if he was a white supremacist.

At that time, I had given up on AI as going nowhere, and having poor prospects for a mediocrity like me, after two semesters of studying AI subjects. I wondered if McCarthy felt  the same, which is why he was writing about culture. His wikipedia page says he was active on social groups in the 1990s.

John McCarthy, Photo from Stanford University website

Anyway, it was still something amazing. One could interact with a superstar of computer science over the internet. Today we can follow hundreds of superstars on Twitter or Facebook. But back then it was amazing.  My one great regret of my Texas AM days, is that I never took the chance to stop by the office of Normal Borlaug, who was an emeritus professor at the Agricultural department. Perhaps just to say thanks. But I would have been too star struck to say anything, let alone anything intelligent. I wonder what I would have said, if I had met McCarthy in 2000, when I lived in California for a few months. Probably the same starstruck mouth agape feeling.

Relevant Links

The SQL Server box (in Tamil)

Personal blogs

Monday, 21 June 2021

Education - a Sanskrit proverb

 आचार्यात् पादं आदत्ते पादं शिष्य स्वमेधया ।

पादं सब्रह्मचारिभिः पादं कालक्रमेण च ॥

Aacaaryaat paadam adattE 
paadam shishyasvamEdayaa
paadam sabrahmacaariBhyaH 
paadam kaalakramENa ca

Meaning by word
Aacaaryaat - from the teacher 
paadam - a quarter (1/4)
adattE - is received
shishya - student
svamEdayaa - intellect or motivation
sabrahmacaariBhyaH - from fellow student
kaalakramENa - experience
ca - an

A quarter of one's knowledge or learning is received from the teacher, a quarter from the student's own ability, a quarter from fellow students, a quarter from experience. 

This is a subhaashitam (or bon-mot or proverb) in Sanskrit about education. The word itself (veda or vidya ) is not used in the proverb, but is implied. The word used for student is brahmachaari, which technically means bachelor. In ancient times, ashramas were the schools, and only bachelors were admitted, so the word expresses that cultural artifact. The European world still uses the term Bachelor or Baccalaureate for basic college degrees in arts business technology or science.

I first stumbled upon this proverb in a beginner's book on Sanskrit, given to my Sri Balasubramanian, around 2011 when he started teaching some of us Sanskrit. I pass it on to students whenever I teach them. 

I wish I had known this proverb as a student. I would have spent more time and effort learning from fellow students. I wish this were taught to all the extra hardworking teachers, who will hopefully learn to ease off, and to some happy-go-lucky teachers who wont feel too much guilt. I have noticed that almost all classes of students seem to fall under some sort of normal distribution by talent, desire, effort, diligence, passion, attention, interest etc. Not every teacher is good at explaining every aspect of his or her subject. And students often learn some concept better from a fellow student than a teacher, even an outstanding teacher. As S Muthiah and other historians of Madras have remarked (including, recently, Matt Ridley in his book The Evolution of Everything), this system of fellow students teaching younger students, was formally used in Indian education in the Madras Presidency (before being supplanted by British model of education). This was called Madras System and was introduced in several schools in Scotland by Dr Andrew Bell, who learnt and used it in Madras, India. After Bell's death, the Madras system was replaced by different teaching methods. There is still a Madras College in Scotland, which mentions Dr Andew Bell, but leaves out all mentions of Madras.

This is true whether they are in a classroom setting or in a open-air location like a monument or some public place. Age, gender, social or economic background doesnt seem to matter. 

Related posts

Tamil translation of this poem

School education in Tamilnadu - translation of Jayamohan's essay

Wikipedia has named this the Monitorial System rather than Madras System. Quite similar to how Lavoisier's name was removed from Lavoisier's Law, I suppose 

Sunday, 16 May 2021

செவிலியர்க்கு பல்லாண்டு

மெய்யத்து மலையான் 
படம்: அஷோக் கிருஷ்ண்சாமி

பல்லாண்டு பல்லாண்டு பல்லாயி ரத்தாண்டு  பலகோடி நூறாயிரம்

மல்லாண்ட நலிமேனி குணம்பேணும் தொண்டர்க்கு பல்லாண்டு பல்லாண்டு

படியாமல் நோய்பிரிய புண்ணார பணிவோர்க்கு பல்லாண்டு

வடிவாய் திருவாய் இருவிதழில் மலர்கின்ற புன்சிரிப்பும் பல்லாண்டு

பொடியாய் நோய் தீர்க்கும் வல்லாயுத  நல்லூசியும் பல்லாண்டு 

விடிவாய் எழும் பகலாய் சுகம்தரும் சேவையும் பல்லாண்டே

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

செய்தி நோய்

 “ஜுராச்சிக் பார்க்” நாவலை எழுதி புகழ் பெற்றவர் மைக்கேல் கிரைட்டன். அவர் ஒரு மருத்துவர். ஹார்வார்ட் பல்கலைகழகத்தில் மருத்துவம் படித்து பட்டம் பெற்றார். மருத்துவத் தொழிலை விட கதை எழுதுவதை விரும்பி ஆண்ட்ரோமீடா ஸ்ட்ரெய்ன், தி கிரேட் டிரெய்ன் ராபரி, காங்கோ, டிஸ்க்லோஷர், போன்ற நாவல்களை எழுதினார். “தி கிரேட் டிரெய்ன் ராபரி” பின்னாளில் கிரைட்டனின் இயக்கத்தில், ஜேம்ஸ் பாண்ட் புகழ் ஷான் கான்னரி நடிக்க, திரைப்படமாகியது.

அவரது நண்பர் முர்ரே ஜெல்-மன், இயற்பியல் மேதை, குவார்க்கு எனும் அணுவின் நுன்பொருளை கண்டுபிடித்தவர். மருத்தவத்தில் ஈடுபடாத மைக்கேல் கிரைட்டன், ஒரு நோயை அடையாளம் கண்டார்; அதற்கு “முர்ரே ஜெல்மன் அம்னீசியா” என்று தன் நண்பரின் பெயரை சூட்டினார்.

அம்னீசியா என்பது தலையில் அடிப்பட்டவர்களுக்கு வரும் மறதி நோய் என்று நாம் அறிவோம். முர்ரே ஜெல்மன் மறதி என்பது செய்தித்தாள் வாசிப்பவருக்கு வரும் நோய். உண்மையில் இது மருத்துவ ரீதியாக நோயே அல்ல, ஒரு விசித்திரமான மனநிலை. அமெரிக்க நாளிதழ்கள் அச்சிட்ட மருத்துவ செய்தகளில் அபத்தமான பிழைகளும் தவறான கருத்துகளும் படித்து மிரண்டு போனார். அதே போல் இயற்பியல் கட்டுரைகளும் பிழைகள் நிறம்பி, அடிப்படை புரிதலே இல்லாதவர் எழிதியது என்பதும் அவரது இயற்பியல் நண்பர் முர்ரே ஜெல்மன் சொன்னார்.

பற்பல துறை நண்பர்களும் தங்கள் துறை சார்ந்த செய்திகள் அதே விதமாக அபத்தமாக இருப்பதாக கிரைட்டன் தகவல் சேர்த்தார். ஆனால் அதே நண்பர்கள் மற்ற துறை செய்திகளை உண்மையென்றும், பிழையில்லாததென்றும், சீராக ஆராய்ந்து எழுதப்பட்டதாகவும் கருதுவதை கண்டு தான் கிரைட்டன் குழம்பி போனார். மருத்துவ செய்தி அபத்தம், ஆனால் மற்ற செய்திகளை நம்புகிறேன் என்று மருத்துவர்களும், அறிவியல் செய்தி அபத்தம் ஆனால் மற்ற செய்திகளை நம்புகிறேன் என்று அறிவியல் வல்லுனர்களும், பொருளியல் செய்தி அபத்தம் ஆனால் மற்ற செய்திகளை நம்புகிறேன் என்று பொருளியல் வல்லுனர்களும் நடந்து கொள்வதை ஒரு வித மனநோயாக, மறதி வியாதியாக கருதி அதற்கு “முர்ரே ஜெல்மன் அம்னீசிய” என்று பெயரிட்டார்.

“சாலை ஈரமானதால் மழை பெய்கிறது” (Wet streets cause rain) என்று ஒரு உவமை சொன்னார் மைக்கேல் கிரைட்டன். எது காரணம் எது விளைவு என்பதிலேயே குழப்பமாம். இவ்வளவு அபத்தமான செய்தியை படித்தும் நாம் நாளிதழ்களை ஏன் நம்புகிறோம் என்று அவருக்கு புரியவில்லை.

”உன்க்கு வந்தா ரத்தம் எனக்கு வந்தா தக்காளி சட்னியா?” என்று நடிகர் வடிவேலு காட்டிய குதர்க்க வாதம் இதன் வேறு ஒரு அவதாரம்

அவ்வப்பொழுது எனக்கும் அப்படி தோன்றுகிறது. இந்தியாவில் தமிழிலும் ஆங்கிலத்திலும் இரவு எட்டு மணி / ஒன்பது மணி தொலைகாட்சி செய்திகளும், அவற்றில் வரும் விவாதங்களும், வைக்கப்படும் வாதங்களும், இன்றெல்லாம் துறை வல்லுனர்கள் அல்ல, சாதாரண மனிதர்களும் எவ்வளவு அபத்தம் என்று நமக்கு தெரிந்தும் நம்மில் பலரும தொடர்ந்து பார்த்துவருகிறோம். சர்வதேச அளவிலும் இதே போல் தான் பச்சையாக வெளிச்சமாக தெரிகிறது. சமூக ஊடகங்களில் நடப்பதை சொல்லி தெரிய வேண்டாம்.

முதல் பக்கத்தில் தங்க நகைகளுக்கு முழு பக்க விளம்பரம் (லலிதா, ஜிஆர்டி, கேரளா, ஜாய் அலுக்கா), அதன் பின்பக்கம் துணிக்கடை முழு பக்க விளம்பரம் (போத்திஸ், ஆர்.எம்.கே.வி, நல்லி, பற்பல), அடுத்து இரண்டு பக்கம் புது வீடு மனை நிலத்திற்கு விளம்பரம், அடுத்த இரண்டு பக்கம் டிவி, மைக்ரோவேவ், ஏசி, ஃப்ரிஜ், சலவை இயந்திர கடைகளின் விளம்பரம், (விவேக் அண்டு கோ, வசந்த் அண்டு கோ, கிரியா, குரோமா, பிக் பஜார், சரவணா)  இதை தவிர கார் கம்பெனிகள், கணினி கம்பெனிகள், செல்பேசி கம்பெனிகள், படுக்கை அலமாரி கடைகள் எல்லாம் விளம்பரம் செய்தாலும், “இந்திய பொருளாதாரம் வரலாறு காணாத வீழ்ச்சி” வகையரா செய்தி படித்து, அதை நம்பி, நொந்து புலம்பும் வாசகர்கள். இதற்கு ஏதாவது அமெரிக்க ஐரோப்பிய வாசி இந்திய பொருளாதார பேராசிரியரின் அரைப்பக்க நேர்காணல் வேறு.

மாய ஆடை என்று சபையே நம்பும் மாதிரி நடிக்க நிர்வாணமான ஊர்வலம் வந்த மன்னர் கதை தெரியும். கண்கூடாக பார்க்கிறோம். ஊருடன் ஒத்துவாழ்வோம்…..

முர்ரே ஜெல்மன் அம்னீசியாவிற்கு ஒரு விக்கிபீடிய பக்கம் இருந்தது. ”என்னது பத்திரிகைக்காராவது தவறாக புரிந்து கொள்வதாவது…” என்று அந்த பக்கத்தையே எடுத்துவிட்டனர். மைக்கேல் கிரைட்டன் விக்கிபீடியா பக்கத்தில் மட்டும் உள்ளது.

அட கிடக்கட்டும், மற்ற விக்கிப்பீடியா பக்கங்களில் தவறு ஏதும் இருக்காது. எல்லாரும் பாருங்க எனக்கும் முர்ரே ஜெல்மன் அம்னீசியா, எனக்கும் முர்ரே ஜெல்மன் அம்னீசியா

முயல்கர்ஜனை கட்டுரைகள்

 What is news?

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

ஓங்காமல் வானளந்த உத்தமர்

உஜ்ஜையின் தீர்கரேகை தெரியுமா? இரண்டாயிரம் ஆண்டுகளாக இந்தியாவின் முக்கிய தீர்க ரேகையாக அது விளங்கியது. இன்று உலக புகழ் பெற்ற கிரீன்விச் தீர்க்கரேகை சுமார் முன்னூறு ஆண்டுகளாக தான் பயன் படுகிறது. உஜ்ஜைன் மகிமை எப்படி கடல் தாண்டி கிரீன்விச்சுக்கு சென்றது?

பிதகோரஸ் கோட்பாடு, ஆர்க்கிமிடீஸ் கோட்பாடு, நியூட்டனின் விதி, என்று கணிதத்திலும் அறிவியலிலும் ஐரோப்பிய பெயர்களை மட்டுமே பள்ளி காலம் முதல் கேட்டு பழகிவி்ட்டோம். பாரதியார் பாடிய பாஸ்கரன் மாட்சி பாடலில் ஒரு வரி மட்டுமா? பாஸ்கரன் கோட்பாடு, பாஸ்கரன் விதி என்று ஏதும் இல்லையா? 

வள்ளுவன் இளங்கோ பாரதி என்றொரு வரிசையில் வந்தது போல் ஆரியபடன், வராகமிகிரன், பிரம்மகுப்தன், என்ற வரிசையில் வந்தவர் சாதனைகள் என்ன? பெயர்களை கேடிகி்றோமே அவர்கள் என்ன தான் செய்தார்கள்? அவர்கள் எழுதிய நூல்கள் என்ன கூறுகின்றன?

கணிதமில்லாமல்லா தஞ்சை பெரிய கோவிலும், கோனாரக் கோவிலும், ஆயிரம் ஆண்டுகளாக அரண்மணைகளும், மாட கோபுரங்களும், கோட்டைகளும், சுரங்கபாதைகளும், பெருங்கடல் கலங்களும் துறைமுகங்களும் கட்டப்பட்டன?  என்ன கணிதம் செய்து கிரகணங்களை கணித்தனர்? இது ஏன் நம் பாடநூல்களில் இல்லை?

வாமனன் விஸ்வரூம் எடுத்து காலால் அளந்த வானையும் மண்ணையும் பாரதத்தின் கணித மேதைகள் நூலால் அளந்த கதை என்ன?

எண்ணும் எழுத்தும் கண்ணென தகும். அந்த எண்களின் கதை என்ன? வரலாறு என்ன? அதற்கும் ஜோதிடத்திற்கும் விண்ணியலுக்கும் என்ன தொடர்பு?

வராகமிகிரன் அறிவியல் மன்றம் ஏப்ரல் 18 தொடங்கி எட்டு வாரங்கள், காலை 1030 முதல் 1130 வரை ஞாயிறுதோறும், இணையதளத்தில் இந்திய விண்ணியலும் கணிதமும் என்ற வகுப்பு நடத்தும். அழைப்பில் விவரங்கள்.

தொடர்புடைய பதிவகள்

2018 நிகழ்ச்சி, வீடியோ

பண்டை நாகரீகங்களின் விண்ணியலும் கணிதமும்

Indian Mathematics - VSF Courses and lectures

Bhavana and Chakravala - a workshop by Badri Seshadri
Geometry via Paper folding - Arun Srivatsava

Monday, 22 March 2021

Chemistry in India - from the Vedic era to the sixteenth century - a VSF lecture

Around ten years ago, at a team meeting of Tamil Heritage Trust to discuss topics for monthly lectures, Sittannavasal, Mamalapuram, Kanchi, Tanjavur, Srirangam, etc were suggested. Music, literature, painting, food, etc also came up as topics.

I suggested that we should consider science too as part of our heritage, and we should have a lecture on a science topic like astronomy. Prof Swaminathan our founder, enthusiastically agreed and "volunteered" me to speak on the subject. It has been a wonderful voyage of discovery. The sheer volume of books, scholarship, the long tradition of Indian astronomy (older than the Ramayana and Mahabharata) were an absolute revelation. The sheer ignorance among the scientific public and what must be considered malignant suppression of this history have been heartbreaking. But also eye-opening.

In December 2019, I attended a series of lectures organized by KV Sarma foundation, which included a lecture Prof BN Jagtap on Indian Chemistry.

I thought he would talk on the Delhi iron pillar, wootz steel, and the everlasting paints of Ajanta, and the dyes of Indian textiles. Modern chemistry began only with Antoine Lavoisier and his discoveries in the late 18th century. Most of Indian chemistry I assumed, was empirical, the discoveries of practical experimenters and professionals. But Prof Jagatap showed that Indian chemistry has as glorious and rich and awesome a history and heritage as astronomy and several of our arts. And he says, he too had a voyage of discovery in the field that is only over a decade old! He himself quote Acharya Prafaull Chandra Ray for extensive research on this subject and publications in English for a society that has almost totally given up Sanskrit as a language of science.

Our great fortune is that he has agreed to speak at the Varahamihira Science Forum. He will deliver a lecture this Saturday 27 March 2021 at 5pm.

I hope many of you can listen in, watch and have your mind blown away.

This youtube link below is for both the live webcast and recorded video

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Rangarajan on Economic Reforms

Dr C Rangarajan former RBI governor, spoke on "Economic reforms" at a program organized on December 2, 2016, by the Triplicane Cultural Academy and the Kasturi Srinivasan Library. The venue was the second floor auditorium at the CP Ramaswami Art center, in Eldams Road, Alwarpet.

In India, almost every major scheme, plan, reform, program,building, brick, nail or board-pin introduced or implemented by the central government is attributed to the Prime Minister. The one exception is the 1991 economic reforms, which are credited to the then Finance minister, Manmohan Singh, rather than the Prime Minister of that time, Narasimha Rao.

These are my notes from that lecture. Since I am no professional journalist, the reader will feel a certain level of discontinuity in the narrative; the fault is mine, obviously, not the speaker’s. I have highlighted some of his salient points, by marking them in bold font. I have added some phrases in parenthesis to clarify what I think the speaker meant.

------Thus spake Rangarajan------

In 1991, India suffered a terrible crisis and balance of payments situation. The extant model was in deep trouble. In the 1960s the economic consensus was that there was a  market failure - the market failed to deliver certain services. (Nationalization of banks, industries, vast swathes of the industry and the economy followed, under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and others, until the 1980s.) This led to diversion of national income, especially into rent taking activities because of socialist regulations.

There can be both market and government failure.

More market doesn't mean less government but different government.

The 1991 crisis was compounded by Iraq war and the fact that current account deficit could not be bridged. Our foreign exchange reserves dropped to three weeks of imports. Totally traumatic period, difficult to manage on a day to day basis. The transfer of gold was decided by Chandrasekar government but the idea came from Reserve Bank of India. Today (in 2016) we get $500M in a couple of days, but (in 1991) we pledged forty tons of gold... It was in very different forms including Victorian coins.

The first break with past was dismantling controls (in several sectors of industry). Second was changing role of the state. Reduced the role of state as marketable goods and services and increasing role as regulator and providing public goods and services. Third was integrating Indian economy into the world economy.

What was the role of Narasimha Rao? Ardent advocate? Did reforms start in 1991 or 1980? Thirdly, what changed the mindsets of politicians who had been part of the controlled regime? Fourth would anyone have done what Rao did?

(1)Economic policy making is not merely the role of economists. Political cover provided by Rao was vital. Rao as Industries Minister decontrolled the economy and announced it on the morning of the budget. Rao couched the reforms in language which appealed to the old guard of the Congress party. I wrote the Eighth five year plan and Rao as pm and chairman of planning commission approved it.

(2) 1980 showed some changes,but also responsible for the crisis in 1991. But 1991 was a watershed.

(3) The enormity of crisis made the change possible, and while IMF had a philosophy and played a role, the decision was ours. Upto 1990 all interest rates on deposits or loans were fixed by RBI. Malhotra allowed banks to set interest rates upto 180 days but there was no support and so we had to withdraw it after a month.

(4) Manmohan role was primary. He was part of the South commission which held on to the old ideas even until 1990. But he realized the magnitude of the problem and changed his mind.

We introduced tax reduction which would pay off only several years down the line. (This was partly inspired by the tax reductions in 1980 USA under Reagan and UK under Thatcher, which led to both their economies booming. But the failure of the USSR economically and politically was the immediate trigger).

We initiated bank reforms. Most importantly, exchange rate system changed. Before that RBI determined the exchange rates. I used to determine the exchange rate as governor, but I was also part of a committee that recommended ending that system.

Higher growth rate in national income produced much better performance in social development. But it is still much less impressive than in economic growth. Which is why Amartya Sen called it "uncertain development ".

Growth impacts social development in two ways. First, the rising tide effect. (A rising tide lifts all boats – that is the population as a whole benefits, not just some sectors of the economy). Second, a pattern of growth. South Korea grew at 7-8% for over three decades. If agriculture improves faster it would help rural India improve.

Poverty has reduced dramatically. Dropped at 2.7% per year from 2004-2014, which was far faster than 0.7% from 1991-2004. But poverty is still at 30% (in 2016).

Domestic private investment is not picking up.

Let me move on to future reforms. One important one is improving efficiency. Another is the introduction of GST (Goods and Services Act).

There are still some industries like sugar and molasses under pre 1991 model. This is subsiding alcohol. Agriculture and its marketing needs reform. APMC Act needs more reform. Farmer cannot sell his products directly. If India grows at 8-9% until 2030, then per capita income will increase to $8000 and only then will India be a middle income country.

Social improvement needs high growth.

Reforms have gained wide acceptance. (By this he meant the 1991 reforms – no major political party wants to go back to the pre 1991 era).

Neither reforms nor growth are ends. Their benefits must go to all.

------End of notes from Rangarajan speech---

My comments: This lecture was delivered in 2016. GST was implemented in 2017. The APMC reforms was passed last year(2020), which led to protests for its repeal by mostly farmers from Punjab and Haryana, later supported by some opposition parties. Labour laws have not been substantially reformed. The corona lockdown has perhaps reversed or halted the rate of reduction of poverty. But it has also launched huge gains in productivity, made organizations consider massive reductions in  travel and physical infrastructure. I wonder if these cost reductions will impact positively on the economy and on the individual.

There does seem to be the spirit of ferocious entrepreneurship in urban centres. The courts, the bureaucracy and the media seem completely dead set against these. I hope I am wrong.

Related Links

My blog essays on Economics 

Other Lecture notes 

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

தென்றல் தீண்டவில்லை

தென்றல் தீண்டவில்லை என்னை
தேவியே தீண்டிவிட்டாள்
சிலிர்த்தது மேனியல்ல - உயர்
சிந்தையும் குளிர்ந்ததுகாண்
வெயலில் நனைந்ததனால் முழு
வையமும் களித்திடவே
மலைப்பது நானல்லவே - அந்த
மலைமகள் குறும்பல்லவோ
கதிரவன் ஒய்வெடுப்பான் - மீன்
கோடிகள் கண்சிமிட்டும்
முத்தங்கள் பொழிந்திடவே முகமேல்
முகிலினம் படையெடுக்கும்
இத்தருணத்தின் இன்பச்சுவைதன்னை
யத்தனித்தேன் யாவருமறிய
முத்தமிழ் போதவில்லை - ஐயோ
முத்தமிழ் போதவில்லை.....

Monday, 18 January 2021

American Football - an introduction

 In my college days, when India had only one television channel, Doordarshan, which was owned and operated by the Indian Government, there was a news program called “The world this week” produced by a private company, which today is NDTV, a private 24 hour news channel. Every year they would show a minute of highlights from an American football game, which for some unfathomable reason was called Superbowl. Like most of the world I only knew soccer football then. This American football seemed very strange, with a ball shaped like a rugby ball, which was also an alien game – but why call it football when all you seem to do is throw it and someone else is catching it. Just to add to the confusion, there were also a couple of instances when somebody kicked the ball through upside down goal posts. All the players seemed like heavyweight boxers, wore huge padded suits that made them look like Batman without his cape or mask. Occassionaly, I saw American football in movie clips and in comic books like Archie and Superman; once, in a Mandrake comic book.

American football in an Archie comic book
Picture from The Deep Friar blog

Nothing like my beloved cricket. Not even as watchable as tennis or car racing. I was no big fan of soccer, though I watched a few World Cup games. But a weird mysterious curious bizarre game, seemed this American football.

College Football

And then a few years later I went to the USA, to study. As it happened, I landed up in a football crazy state, Texas – while America seems uniform to outsiders, each state has its own character, that foreigners only slowly comprehend after years of stay. Some Texans joke that Texas has two religions, Christianity and football, not necessarily in that order. And that is saying something, as Texas is in the heart of the Bible belt. (Cricket has acquired a similar status in India, hasn’t it?)

I entered into a Master’s program in Computer science at a university with a good college football team, Texas A&M University (TAMU). College sports are a huge money spinner, and cultural focus of identity for most universities in the USA. The autumn or fall semester, September to December is also college football season: all American sports are seasonal. And every Saturday afternoon my roommates and a couple of neighbors, all students from India, mostly from Madras, in TAMU for graduate studies, gathered to watch TAMU play football on TV. In a few weeks, I started watching professional football, which was played on Sundays, and also shown on TV. It took me a few weeks to understand the basic rules – every sport is much easier to understand if you actually play it, not merely watch it on TV; and football while extremely popular on American TV, is rarely played on its streets or grounds, except by formal teams in schools and colleges. This is very much unlike basketball or baseball or even soccer or volleyball. The sport most similar in this stark contrast, is car racing.

College football
Texas A&M University vs North Carolina University

While I enjoyed the college version, especially because it is very easy to root for the TAMU college team, the professional sport was not only superior, it was better presented. In India, the only team I ever rooted for in the 1980s and 1990s was the national team – there was no professional leauge. The amateur league, where teams were divided by state, which played for the Ranji Tropy, was never on TV, and unwatchable unless you were a desperate fanatic, and a Bombay fan. Technically all Indian sports team comprised of amateur athletes, because they were all nominally employees of some company or the other like a bank, Railways, Telephones etc. all owned by either the central or state governments.

Professional Sports

Socialist dullness pervaded every sport except cricket from my perspective. The only professional athletes in India were in ancient Indian sports like wrestling or bull fighting or bullock cart racing, most of which urban democratic India was ashamed of and tried to suppress or destroy in various ways. As a modern city slicker they were beneath even my contempt anyway. They were never shown on Doordarshan (government run television), but very popular in cinema, which was in the hands of private entreprise. But cinemas showcased these sports so poorly, only the country hicks enjoyed them in real life. (I had to go to college for four years in a rural setting, before fully understanding how cut off we city slickers were from half of India, and how arrogant and ignorant and condescending we are.)

I had no idea how loyalties worked in professional sports in America, not just in football but also in Baseball and Basketball, the two other extremely popular sports. The teams were all based on cities not states. The Chicago (city) Bears, not the Illinois (state) Bears. The Dallas (city) Cowboys not the Texas (state) Cowboys. Exceptions were Minnesota and Arizona where the teams were named for their states, and New England named for an area with multiple states. The players came from all over the USA, usually having played for some college team. The colleges themselves had a caste or class system, with about 100 Universities called First Division, forming a pool from which the players for the professional leagues were chosen.

In 1991, I didn’t have  favorite team, though my friends and roommates liked the Houston Oilers, Houston being the nearest city. When the 1992 season started, after a few weeks I realized I like the Dallas Cowboys more than the Oilers. Dallas was a better team. That unit turned out to one of the best in NFL history.

There were several small professional leagues in American football, but the biggest, richest league and most visible on TV, was the National Football League. There used to be another league called the American Football League, but the two merged in 1960, and became two subunits of the same league. They just called themselves National Football Conference and American Football Conference. There were fifteen teams in each group divided into three divisions, but now there are sixteen teams divided into four divisions, called North, South, East and West. The teams with best records after the sixteen games in each division, play two others with the best records in some playoffs within each conference. The winner of both conference playoffs face off in the Superbowl, the most watched TV program every year in the USA.

I stopped watching the NFL after I returned to India, mainly because those games happen at what is nighttime in India. But in 2015, I saw some ten minute highlight clips of Sunday games and watched a few (sometimes on the laptop, sometimes on my smartphone after 3G or 4G delivered high quality videos). Since then I have been hooked again, watching these highlights every Monday morning. The full game is fun to watch if you have friends watching with you, but the ten to twelve minute clips are well mostly well edited, the comments are sometimes terrific, and some post game chats are also delightful.

How it is played

Let me give an illustrated guide to the game. I doubt anyone will start following the game, based on this essay, but, what the heck. One more arrow from quiver of Quixotism, after equally quixotic introductions to Carnatic music, Indian astronomy, Pallava grantham script, temple architecture, etc.

There are three aspects to the game – running the football, passing the football and yes, also, kicking the football. Americans spell English words differently, eat with forks in their right hands instead of the left, modified cricket to turn it into baseball, use a different elecric voltage and system of plugs compared to the English world, drive on the left side of the roads - and they play football in a way the rest of the world doesn’t even bother to pay attention. After 150 years of trying to be less English than the English, they decided it was more important to be less European than the rest of Europe, after the two world wars. Anyway…

The football field is a 100 yards long (the one English thing America continues is their imperial measurement system) and 160 feet (about 50 yards) wide. Every five yards is marked with a full painted line from one side to the other, and every one yard is marked off with a hash mark, two on the sidelines, two in the center a few yards apart. The ten yard lines are marked 10,20, 30, 40 on each side, with the centerfield marked 50. On each end of the 100 yards is a 10 yard long region called the endzone. The game starts with a kickoff, determined by coin toss. The football is placed on a small plastic tee at the 35 yard line of the kicking team’s side. A kicker kicks it off, and tries to land it between the end zone and the 20 yard line of the opposite team. One player of the receiving team will try to catch the kicked ball and run it all the way the end zone of the other team. He is usually stopped tackling after a few yards by the one or more players of the kicking team, by physically tackling him. The receiving team (called the offense) starts its possession (like an inning), and tries to move the ball by passing or running the ball until it reaches the opponent’s endzone. If a running player (usually called the Running Back) enters the endzone with the ball, or passing player (usually called the QuarterBack) throws the ball to a Receiver.

A possession consists of a series of plays. The ball is placed on the ground at the hashmark where the previous play ended. This is called the line of scrimmage, for each play. If the receiver or runner of the offense was tackled at their 24th yard line, the ball is placed on the 24th yard line.

The offense has to assemble in a formation – five players called Offensive Linemen will line up, at the Line of Scrimmage. The central player called Center, will hold the ball on the ground, then snap it backwards between his legs to the Quarterback. Two offensive players line up at the two ends of the line. These are usually the designated Wide Receivers. Four players including the quarterback, form the backfield. Usually the other players are Running Backs. Each play begins when the Center snaps the ball to the Quarterback, who can choose to either pass (throw) the ball to one of the Wide Receivers or hand it off to one of the Running Backs, who will then try to carry the ball (run) towards the Defensive side.

In yellow rectangle - Offensive Line (Buffalo Bills, red uniform);
In blue rectangle - Defensive Line (Pittsburgh Steelers, white and yellow uniform)

Offense Formation
Top view

The eleven players of the Defense also have a basic formation, usually four players called the Defensive Line facing the Offensive Line with a one yard neutral zone between them. Behind the Defensive Line are three LineBackers. When the ball is snapped, the four players of the Defensive Line charge at the five players of the Offensive Line, and try to get past them to tackle whoever is holding the ball (Quarterback or RunningBack). The LineBackers have the option of either charging along with Defensive Line or dropping back to stop the Running Back, if he manages to break through to the other side.

Also on the defense, two CornerBacks line up facing the two Wide Receivers at either end of the Offensive Line. Their job is to prevent the WRs from catching the ball. They may not hold them, grab them or tackle them before they receive the ball thrown by the Quarterback, but may try to catch the ball themselves or hit the receiver as he catches it to stop him at that point or force an incomplete pass. If a player drops a catch or catches it outside the sidelines or even with one of his two feet outside the sideline, it is considered incomplete. The Wide Receivers or the Running Back try to reach the opponents EndZone – if they cross the line with the ball or catch it in the ten yard wide EndZone, it is called a Touchdown and the offense gets six points.

Quarterback hands over ball to Running Back 

Quarterback throws ball to Wide Receiver

Just in case an offensive runner or receiver manages to get past the Linebackers or Corner Backs, there are two more defensive players called Free Safety and Strong Safety who twenty to thirty yards behind the defensive line to try and tackle them. The play ends when the runner or receiver is either tackled to the ground or goes out of bounds (goes beyond either sideline). The line where they are tackled is now the new line of scrimmage, and a fresh play starts with both teams lining up in formation, a fresh snap by the Center. If a ball is dropped (incomplete pass), the next play starts at the same line of scrimmage.

The first line of scrimmage of each possession is called First Down. The offense is allowed four Downs, called obviously First Down, Second Down, Third Down and Fourth Down to move the ball ten yards from the first line of scrimmage. If they manage it or go even farther (say fifteen or nineteen or twenty six yards), they get  a new First Down. Each offensive possession is a series of small First Down attempts, to eventually reach the End Zone and score a touchdown. There are no point for any of the downs.

If after the third down, the offense hasn’t managed to move the ball ten yards forward from the First Down line, they can choose to punt the ball, or try one more pass or run. In a punt, the center snaps the ball to a punter, who is usually about fifteen yards behind the line of scrimmage (not one foot behind, like the Quarterback). He catches the ball with his hands and tries to drop kick it as far as he can to the other side, from which point the other team starts their possession and series of First Downs.

Usually the offense punts if they are at least forty yards or more away from the endzone. If they are within the forty yard line of the opponents side, though, they may instead try a field goal. This is where the Center snaps a ball to a Holder, who is kneeling about seven yards behind him, places it on the ground and a Kicker tries to kick the ball between the upright goal posts. If he succeeds, the team gets a Field Goal, which is worth three points (half the six point of a Touchdown). If he misses (that is, the ball drops short or goes left or right of the goal posts), the defense starts their possession from the line of scrimmage. That is why the offense doesn’t try to usually kick very long field goals (remember the field goal has to go ten yards longer than the touchdown).

A long field goal attempt - from 54 yards away

If the offense scores a Touchdown, they are allowed to make an extra point attempt. They can either try to kick the ball from the ten yard line for one extra point, or try to run or pass into the endzone again from the two yard line for two extra points. So a touchdown is worth more than just two field goals.

LasVegas Raiders Wide Receiver (in black and white uniform)
heads into the endzone (painted black) having beaten Indianapolis Colts defenders (white and blue)

Referee signals a Touchdown, by raising both hands

This is a just briefing of a small set of rules of American football (I have said nothing about penalties for example, and special exemptions). It usually takes the newbie to the sport several weeks or months of watching the game before picking up the basic elements. And this is why the game is not popular outside the USA (Canada plays its own version with slightly different rules), except among people who have spent a few months in the USA. Hence basketball and baseball are more  popular US cultural exports. The rules for cricket are just as complex, which is why only former colonies of England play that game.

The degree of specialization is somewhat insane. Each team actually has separate teams for Offense, Defense and Kicking (called Special teams). That means a minimum roster of thirty three (three sets of eleven). A full team roster usually has nearly fifty players. Even the punter and field goal kicker are two different players. The Quarterback almost never plays any other position, for example, though he sometimes runs the ball, if none of his wide receivers is open and free to catch the ball. The Offensive Line may not catch or run the ball, they may only block the defense. 

The head coach of each team is highly critical, in a way peculiar to American sports (basketball and football head coaches also have enoromous say in almost every play). The coaching staff for each team runs into double digits. The money is quite astounding. Outside the USA, only soccer players and Formula 1 drivers make comparable amounts of money (boxers too, but they are usually American).

Head coaches of several university football teams (which are amateur sports – no college player is paid) are paid a million dollars – some of them are paid more than the President (ViceChancellor) of their University or Governor of their State.

Strategies and Trick plays

What makes America football fun, is not just the basic rules and games, but the strategies, trick plays, ununsual formations, and incredible athleticism, that is often on display.

A common example of athleticism is when a Running back tries to leap over the defensive line, into the endzone, to score a touchdown. (Cricket metaphor: Like a batsman diving over the crease to avoid a run out, or a fielder diving for a catch).

Deception is often the best form of offense. The most common trick play is called play-action. In this, the Quarterback pretends to hand over the ball to Running back, but doesn’t. The Running back pretends to tuck the ball and run forward. The Linebackers of the defense therefore, assume that it is a run attempt, rather than a pass attempt, and try to block the runner from coming through one of the gaps between the players of the Offensive Line. They are only fooled for about two seconds, but these two seconds is what the Quarterback needs to drop back without being rushed and in these two seconds, one or more of the Wide Receivers may get a two yard separation from the Cornerback covering him. The Quarterback then passes it to whichever WideReceiver is open. As soon as the ball is thrown, the entire defense can see who is the intended receiver and the nearest players try to tackle him. (Cricket metaphor : Spinner’s googly or batsman’s reverse sweep).

Another trick play is when the Quarterback passes the ball backward to a Wide Receiver or Running Back. The catcher may only be a yard behind the horizontal line on which the QB stands, and the defense will assume he is trying to run after the catch, and will tackle him. But the catcher now throws the ball to an open Wide Receiver, whose defenders are momentarily distracted and gets far more yards than the first pass and run would have fetched.

Trick play part 1 - QB passes backwards to RB
Cornerbacks allow Wide receivers past them, go to tackle RB

Trick play part 2
RB passes to WR, who is now 15 yards past cornerbacks 

There are a vast number of trick plays with fascinating names like Statue of Liberty play, fake punts (whether the special team lines up for a punt, but the punter throws the ball to a wide receiver for a first down), fake field goal, reverse (a wide receiver comes around to take the quarterback’s handoff rather than the running back), flea flicker, shovel pass, and so on. They are spectacular when they come off, and seem silly when they dont.

Here is another strange play, perhaps not originally planned as such, where QuarterBack Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City, (No. 15, in white and red uniform) escapes a tackle, runs toward the first down, but shovels a backwards pass underhanded to a Running Back behind him. Mahomes is the Virat Kohli or Steve Smith of football, the most exciting new player since Tom Brady. He led his team to a SuperBowl victory last year and may do so again this year.

Backward pass from Patrick Mahomes (No. 15) to Running back
Notice Line of scrimmage in blue
Receivers are blocking defenders downfield of Mahomes

But the defense is also made of intelligent human beings, and they often detect the offense’ tricks and try to spoil it. One such play is when a cornerback guesses the intended receiver and jumps in front to catch the ball. This is called an interception, and if Cornerback catches it, the defensive team now gets possession, from the spot where it was intercepted. The intercepting player can also run the ball towards his opponents endzone, and if he reaches it, the he scores a touchdown and gets six points. If he manages to only run a few yards before he is tackled by one of his opponents, that becomes the starting line for the intercepting team

Cornerback (No 23 in white uniform) leaps to intercept
 ball intended for Wide Receiver (No. 83 black and silver uniform) 

An interception is one of three possible turnovers. Another is when a running player drops the ball or the ball is slapped out of his hands, before his back or knee hits the ground. This is called a fumble. If the fumble is recovered by his own teammate, they continue from there, but if one of the defensive players grabs it, he can return it to the opponents end zone or as far as he can.

Sometimes, the offense is barely one yard or one foot short of the first down marker, and will go for a run or pass on fourth down. If they don’t make it, the opponent starts possession at the point they stopped the offense. This is called a Turnover on Downs. Usually the offense only tries this when they are well into the opponents territory and they want to score a touchdown rather than settle for a field goal.

Remember Offensive Line has five players and the Defensive Line usually has only four, with three Linebackers hanging back. Sometimes two of these linebackers try to cut through the offensive line, with a six on five mismatch. This is called a Blitz. Then they try to tackle the Quarterback before he can pass or the Running back while he is still behind the line of scrimmage. This is called a Sack. Say the offense is on their own 24th yard line, First Down and 10 yards to go. They have to reach the 34th yard line for fresh First Down. If one of the blitzers tackles the ball carrier at the 20 yard line, the offense now has Second Down and 14 yards to go.

Sometimes a cornerback or safety comes around the end of the offensive line for a blitz, rather than a linebacker trying to cut through. A lot of the strategy in football is the offensive line blocking the defense in creative ways, and the defensive line trying to cut through the offensive in equally ingenious ways. TV commentators rarely highlight this, but it is where half the games are lost or won, away from the ball. The players on the offensive and defensive line invariably weigh more than three hundred pounds (140 kg) and are built for almost wrestling skill, not speed and mobility.

Excellent blocking 
Offensive Line (black uniform) protects QB (left extreme)
from defense (white uniforms), giving him time to throw

QB (left extreme) on 30 yard line
throws the ball just avoiding the blitz

SanFrancisco QB in (red and gold uniform)
sacked by Dallas Cowboys cornerback (white uniform) who broke through the Offensive Line

Quarterback Tom Brady (12) gets past defensive line 
avoiding the blitz

This last picture of Quarterback Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, avoiding the sack, is interesting. While the offensive and defensive linemen are locked in blocking, he has managed to get past them and is about to throw to a Wide Receiver (right extreme), who is just past the first down marker (yellow line - graphics effect). The Line of scrimmage for this play is the blue line (graphics effect. 

Tom Brady is the Donald Bradman of the American football. He has reached nine Superbowls, playing for the New England Patriots, and won six in a twenty year career. Some excellent football players have never reached the Superbowl, and only a few have even reached four Superbowls. In early 2020, the Patriots released him and he joined the Tampa Bay team, which won its first playoff in thirteen years, under him, and today (Sunday Jan 17, 2021) he won another playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.

But I have already perhaps written more about football than any reader of my blog is likely to read or understand. So I will stop, here.

Most of the pictures were taken from screen captures of Youtube videos of these NFL games. The Archie comic picture is from The Deep Friar blog 

Related blogs

On cricket – The Sehwag difference

The art and aesthetic of driving cars(Formula 1)

A Texas table tennis story

An Introduction to Carnatic music

Indian Mathematics and Astronomy course

Pallava Grantham classes

Sunday, 3 January 2021

A brief timeline of Vaccinations

I am neither a doctor, nor biologist, nor historian. I first studied this for a lecture about Vaccination in Madras, for the Madras Local History Group. I have merely provided some dates and data, for an easier read.

Ignaz Semmelweiss

Before Sterilization and Germ theory

  • 1700s Lady Montague inoculates her children in Turkey, introduces vaccination to England
  •     English aristocrats inoculate their children
  • 1794 Edward Jenner starts variolation and vaccination
  • 1858 Great Stink of London, Thames cleaning begins
  •     Darwin-Wallace paper on Evolution presented by Lyell and Hooker
  •     Five of Darwin's children died in infancy (did vaccination not save them?)
  • 1864 Louis Pasteur discovers Germs cause diseases
  •     Antibodies, white blood cells discovered
  • 1847 Ignaz Semmelweiss discovers importance of sterilization, in Austria
  • 1848-1860 Political Turmoil in Europe
  • 1861 Semmelweiss campaigns for doctors to wash hands between surgeries
  •     Doctors refuse to wash hands, blood stains seen as symbols of valour
  • 1865 Semmelweiss sentenced and imprisoned in a lunatic asylum, for his sterilization campaign; dies 

After discovery of Sterilization

  • 1865 Lister advises Wash hands, use gloves, introduces anti-septics
  • 1860 John Snow discovers feces infested water causes cholera, campaigns for clean water. 
  •     John Snow: "Boil water before drinking"
  • 1861 Death by typhoid of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria
  •     Campaign to clean up River Thames, London, build sewerage system
  • 1861 Europeanization of toilets, sewers.
  •     Globalization takes another century

Vaccination Laws in England

  •     1840 Free Vaccination
  •     1855 Compulsory Vaccination
  •     1867 Penalty to resist Vaccination

  • 1870 Robert Hooker: "Wallace has lost caste" (because Wallace explored spirituality, seances. Wallace also doubts that human mind evolved by Natural Selection)
  • 1890 Robert Koch : Different germs cause different diseases
  • 1896 Alfred Russel Wallace publishes book "Vaccination a Delusion, its penal enforcement a crime"
(This book by Wallace is out of print. A free version is available on Kindle, but very badly formatted)

I now suspend the timeline for some notes from Wallace's book

Wallace findings

  • Jenner: Less than 2000 deaths upto 1800
  • Parliament 1836: 5000 deaths before 1800
  • Dr Ernest Hart British Medical Journal 1880: 18,000 deaths per million
  • National Vaccination Society 1884: Before vaccination, 40,000 dead in England of pox
  • Wallace quip: "Dead were multiplying in the past"

Wallace observations

  • Villages and small towns rarely had deaths. Also far lower death rates than London
  • Filth diseases caused by foul air and water, decaying organic matter, overcrowding
  • Plague and leprosy not eliminated by vaccines but by marginal improvements in hygiene
  • Replaced by cholera, small pox etc as main killers
  • No careful tests were made with two groups one vaccinated, the other not
  • Doctors are bad statisticians
  • Royal Commission had no statisticians, but doctors, lawyers and politicians

Fortunately, unlike Semmelweiss, Wallace was not hounded into a lunatic asylum

(Gopu comment: Cheap cotton textiles, mainly imported from India via several East India Companies, from 1640 onwards, probably played a big role in improving European hygiene. As did the Cotton revolution in England from 1740 onwards.

Also cheaper coal because of James Watt engine made hot water far far cheaper. Average Europeans could bathe in winter almost as often as residents of tropics)

The Timeline continues...

PreModern Era of Medicine

  • 1890 German company Bayer invents Aspirin. Era of chemical medicine, pills, pharmaceutical industry begins
  • Insulin discovered
  • 1930s  Heroin, cocaine, all kinds of snake oil sold over the counter in USA
Modern Era of medicine
  • 1940 Sulfa, Antibiotics make Western medicine better than medicine of other nations for the first time in history (warning: this is only Gopu's opinion) 
  • Rate of decline of death rates go from 2% per year to 8% per year, some of it is credited to vaccines
  • 1945 Transistor invented. Integrated circuits follow soon. Electronic devices make research and medicine far superior in a short time
  • 1954 Polio vaccine invented
  • 1960 Measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine invented (Estimate 5000 deaths prevented in 20 years)
  • 1970 Smallpox eradicated
  • 1994 Plague suspected in Surat, Gujarat, India cut off from world for two weeks
  • 2000s Potential epidemics SARS, Ebola, swine flu, bird flu, curtailed before pandemic
  • 2020 January - COVID-19 Coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan, China; parts of Italy, USA; several air travelers
  • 2020 March - Global lockdowns begin
  • 2019 November - Announcements of several COVID-19 vaccines, from UK, USA, Russia, China

Explanatory Note

A small but vocal anti-vaccination movement is active in USA. Wikipedia calls is vaccine hesitancy. But such movements have been common throughout history, not just against vaccination, but against other new forms of medicine or science. Science usually wins, but frequently, what was considered turns out to be very unscientific - examples are : the four humours, phlogistons, phrenology, eugenics, vital forces theory, philosophers stone, Lysenko genetics, and possibly string theory.  Some of these people are extremely unscientific, religious (usually Christian - in the USA), some simply are suspicious of governments and doctors. 

If he were alive today, Alfred Wallace would also be labeled anti-vax and "denier". As his colleague Robert Hooker noted, "Wallace had lost caste."

Make of it what you will

Related Links

On Alfred Russel Wallace    

My essays on Biology 

Darwin's medical problems - and lousy medical treatment

Video of my lecture Vaccination in Madras (for Madras Local History)