Sunday, July 29, 2012

Badass mathematicians - 1: Evariste Galois

Most people don't tend to think of mathematicians as being badass. Popular convention - so vigorously and boisterously propagated by the media - sees them as hapless dorks. Thick glasses, messy hair and awkward social skills, the world sees the prototypical mathematician as a portrait in pitiful meekness.

On the contrary, the most influential mathematicians throughout history were people with an extraordinary zeal for life and were full of contagious vitality and energy. Sure, a lot of them were shy or preferred to stay isolated, but that was because they preferred to spend their time working on equations, not wasting time engaging in mindless pleasantries. Most of them maintained a healthy interest in music and reading, and some even went as far as to host lavish parties at their houses to entertain their guests.

In this and the next few posts (probably one a week), I want to highlight the lives and personalities of some of the more "colorful" mathematicians throughout the ages.

Let's start with Evariste Galois.

This is Evariste Galois:
"My jacket collar beats your entire outfit!"

Poem of the week - "Kyrie"

Haven't done one of these in a while. Here's Tomas Transtromer (I have written about him here and here) again:


At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark.
A feeling of masses of people pushing blindly
through the streets, excitedly, toward some miracle,
while I remain here and no one sees me.

It is like the child who falls asleep in terror
listening to the heavy thumps of his heart.
For a long, long time till morning puts his light in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.

Short, uneasy and bleak: just the way I like most of my poetry. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The greatest western blot machine west of the Mississippi

Readers of this blog: I want you to pause whatever it is you are doing (the redditing can wait till later) and take a brief moment (or two or three) to behold the greatest western blot machine west of the Mississippi, aka me.

For those uninitiated in the glorious ways of molecular biology, you might be scratching your head (or in some cases, that glaringly obvious bald spot), "What the hell is a western blot?"

Here's a brief primer (for those who get this lame pun, you can politely snigger): a western blot is an experimental technique used to detect proteins from sample/tissue/organ/cell/culture plate of your choice. Let's use me as an example. I roll into my research lab some time around 10:30, grind up tiny mice brains in a solution, do some hand waving - and voila! - I end up with some protein. Over the next few hours, I put my feet up and beast people around on Scramble with Friends, solve a couple crosswords and chug coffee. By some force of nature, the proteins are ready to be visualized on a digital imager the next day. And the cycle begins anew. Also, a bunch of rabbits and mice were probably bled to make the process work.

Friday, July 6, 2012

To bike is to live

St. Louis is a very bike friendly city. Roads are littered (probably not the best choice of verbs, but whatever) with proud signs saying "Bike St. Louis" with a little dude (or dudette) on a bike. There are numerous bike trails around the area. Significantly, there are at least three bike shops within a 3 mile radius. Although the bikes they sell are very expensive (the cheapest are around $300), just the fact they have $4000 bikes shows how serious biking is.

That's all splendid for me because I am a huge fan of bikes. Have been ever since I learned how to ride and earned my "badge of honor" in form of a nasty scar on the knee. I rode it to school for many years growing up in India, and even at UCLA lorded around the campus at odd hours. When my Diamondback got stolen the very next day I bought it, I felt like I was having an acute case of MI.