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|NEWS DIARY | SEPTEMBER
Two Win MacArthur Genius Awards | Obama Salutes Gandhi | Dubious Ploy | Standoff Resolved | Rains Claim 86 Lives
Two Win MacArthur Genius Awards
Berkeley computer scientist Maneesh Agrawala and Harvard mathematician L. Mahadevan are among this year’s 24 new MacArthur Fellows, popularly known as the MacArthur “Genius” awards.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named 24 new MacArthur Fellows for 2009. Last month, the recipients learned by a phone call out of the blue from the foundation that they will each receive $500,000 in no strings attached support over the next five years.
Agrawala designs visual interfaces that enhance our ability to understand large quantities of complex information. Working at the intersection of visualization, human-computer interaction, and computer graphics, Agrawala draws on cognitive psychology to identify the key perceptual and design principles underlying graphic illustrations. His algorithms automatically generate legible and effective designs for a variety of data types.
Agrawala’s novel approach to visualization and computer communication in these and many other projects is transforming how we use, synthesize, and comprehend the ever-increasing volume of digital information we encounter in our daily lives.
Maneesh Agrawala received a B.S. (1994) and a Ph.D. (2002) from Stanford University. He is currently an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
L. Mahadevan is a mathematician who applies complex mathematical analyses to a variety of seemingly simple, but vexing, questions across the physical and biological sciences — how cloth folds when draped, how skin wrinkles, how flags flutter. Through his explorations of shape and motion, in many different material types, sizes, and time frames, Mahadevan strives to identify commonalities of the fundamental nonlinear and nonequilibrium behavior driving them.
The unusually broad scope of his theoretical and experimental investigations defies facile categorization, but they are linked by an effort to discover the geometric and mechanical principles that determine the behavior of complex biological and physical systems.
L. Mahadevan received a B.Tech. (1986) from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, an M.S. (1987) from the University of Texas at Austin, and an M.S. (1992) and Ph.D. (1995) from Stanford University. He is the De Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics at Harvard University.
Obama Salutes Gandhi
President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to Indian freedom movement leader and proponent of nonviolence Mahatma Gandhi in a special statement, acknowledging the debt of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to the ideas of Gandhi.
“On behalf of the American people, I want to express appreciation for the life and lessons of Mahatma Gandhi on the anniversary of his birth,” Obama said in his statement. “This is an important moment to reflect on his message of non-violence, which continues to inspire people and political movements across the globe.
“We join the people of India in celebrating this great soul who lived a life dedicated to the cause of advancing justice, showing tolerance to all, and creating change through non-violent resistance.
“Americans owe an enormous measure of gratitude to the Mahatma. His teachings and ideals, shared with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1959 pilgrimage to India, transformed American society through our civil rights movement. The America of today has its roots in the India of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent social action movement for Indian independence which he led.”
Mahatma Gandhi would not be pleased.
As the Financial Times reports: “In a jarring attempt to raise its profile in India, Montblanc, the Swiss penmaker, has unveiled a gold-and-silver fountain pen to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi, the independence leader whose austere asceticism was at the heart of his liberation campaign.”
The limited-edition Mahatma Gandhi pen, priced at Rs. 1.1 million ($23,000), has an 18-carat solid gold, rhodium-plated nib, engraved with Gandhi's image, and "a saffron-colored mandarin garnet" on the clip. The pens were unveiled before the national holiday on Gandhi's birthday.
Dilip R. Doshi, chairman of Entrack, Montblanc's distributor in India, said the pen embodied Gandhi's timeless philosophy of non-violence and respect for all living creatures. "We are creating a thing of simplicity and beauty that will last for centuries."
But Amit Modi, secretary of the Gandhi Ashram in Sabarmati that Gandhi founded to promote his ideas of egalitarianism and simple living, expressed dismay at the product, which he called "not relevant" to Gandhi's name. "If he had seen this, he would have thrown it away," Modi said. "I cannot imagine why anybody has done this. We cannot recognize this."
Yet the pens have received the blessing of Tushar Gandhi, the Mahatma's often vocal great-grandson, who received $146,000 from Montblanc to build a shelter for rescued child laborers.
"I know there is a contradiction between the man they are commemorating and the product they are commemorating him with, but you can't expect a company like Montblanc to come out with a cheap thing." Gandhi said Montblanc had shown "a lot of guts" to dedicate a luxury pen to the independence leader.
But Suhel Seth, a brand expert with Counselage, said using the image of Gandhi - a rare symbol of unity in an often divided country - could backfire.
"Look at the illogical marketing," Seth said. "Montblanc is an elite product. Gandhi stood for everything that was non-elitist. Here is a pen that uses the idiom of a man who believed in third-class travel to promote a first-world product to luxurious desk tops. When you tinker around with that symbol of credibility, respect and honor, you risk a backlash that no brand needs or deserves."
The month-long standoff between the Government and IIT faculty over the issue of pay structure ended Oct. 2 with HRD minister Kapil Sibal saying the norms could be relaxed in exceptional cases.
"All issues between IIT faculty and HRD ministry over pay structure have been resolved," he told reporters after meeting IIT faculty representatives to sort out the issue.
The guidelines issued on pay structure are only norms, he said, adding that the "IIT system has the flexibility to deviate from the norms in exceptional cases. We are prepared to re-visit any of the guideline in case of exceptional cases."
The IIT faculty had been demanding withdrawal of 40 percent cap on promotion of professors to senior grade. The teachers were also opposing the provision of contractual appointment at entry level.
"If in a particular discipline faculty is not available as per the existing norms, the IITs can relax the norms to absorb any person," Sibal said.
Prof M. Thenmozhi, President of All India IIT Faculty Federation, said they were happy with the discussions with Sibal. "The minister has assured us about IIT retaining flexibility and they can relax norms. This will help IITs move forward," she said.
Around 1,500 IIT faculty had gone on a day-long hunger strike Sept. 24 to protest the HRD Ministry guidelines.
Rains Claim 86 Lives
Torrential rains continued to wreak havoc in North Karnataka with the rain-related toll in the state reaching 86.
As the situation remained grave, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa held an emergency meeting, where Air Force and Army officials were present, besides state ministers, to take stock of the situation.
Bijapur district was the worst hit by the rains, which has thrown normal life out of gear in the districts of Raichur, Gulbarga, Koppal, Bagalkote, Bellary, Belgaum and Gadag.
More than 20,000 houses have collapsed, many areas inundated and road services affected in some parts, officials said.
Helicopters are being pressed into the service for rescue operations.
Ministers S. Suresh Kumar, Sobha Karandlaje and R. Ashok, chief secretary S.V. Ranganath, DGP Ajay Kumar Singh and Additional DGP A.R. Infant were among those who attended the meeting.