musings on music and life

July 31, 2014

Abishek Raghuram Margazhi Maha Utsavam 2013

Filed under: Carnatic Music — sankirnam @ 10:29 pm

It’s a travesty that I haven’t posted this yet:

I make several cameo appearances in the audience… but that is not why one should watch this video! It should be watched in its entirety as it is an amazing piece of music. Regular readers of this blog would know by now how obsessed I am with Abishek Raghuram; I still consider myself lucky that I got to hear and directly see this concert live!

This concert was a tribute to the late Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, and Abishek also included his Nilambari varnam, Lalithe Shri Pravruddha (Bhairavi), and Lalgudi’s Khamas thillana, which are not included in Jaya TV’s broadcast.

The thani after Deva Shri was not included in the TV broadcast, which is a shame. It was particularly interesting because of the eduppu; Deva Shri is set to viloma chapu, the inverse of regular misra chapu. One can also think of it as a misra chapu + 1.5 aksharam eduppu. Narayanan sir took it as such; since misra chapu is 3.5 aksharams, playing a 4 aksharam pattern 3 times will take you to the eduppu (4*3 = 12, which is the same as 3.5*3=10.5+1.5=12!). I remember that set up clearly.

Amgen Layoffs

Filed under: Chemistry Jobs — Tags: — sankirnam @ 9:42 am

Amgen has just announced that they are laying off 2,500 employees and shutting down their facilities in Washington and Colorado. Of course, their stock price also went up almost 7% that day, after the annoucement.

I don’t understand how I am supposed to be optimistic about the future of chemistry after reading things like this. It appears that getting a bachelor’s in computer science (an idea I once, to my regret now, foolishly scoffed at) is going to be necessary in order for me to put food on the table and a roof over my head.

July 21, 2014

Sangeetha Kalanidhi 2014

Filed under: Carnatic Music — Tags: , — sankirnam @ 10:08 pm

Congratulations to Shri T. V. Gopalakrishnan on being appointed as the Sangeetha Kalanidhi designate for 2014 by the Madras Music Academy! This is a richly deserved title to a multifaceted genius.

My experience with TVG sir is primarily as a mrudangam maestro. I have had the privilege of hearing him play live in Chennai several times, and each is an unforgettable experience. Even at his age, his speed, vigor, and stamina are indescribable. He has pioneered new playing techniques on the mrudangam, including new ways to play melodic notes on the thoppi (left or bass side). He pioneered a new type of drumhead for the valanthalai (right or treble side), the kambi type (complementary to the traditional kucchi or kappi). The kambi valanthalai is prepared by insertion of a very thin metal (usually copper) wire underneath the meetu skin. My mrudangam maker in Chennai has told me that these are extremely difficult to make, as the wire is prone to puncturing the skin (once the skin has a hole, it loses any ability to make the desired sound). But when done properly, these mrudangams are renowned for their rather exaggerated sound in the dhin and chapu strokes. Their harmonics can last up to 20 seconds!

TVG sir also uses a wooden stand for the mrudangam, as opposed to the traditional posture of resting the instrument on the calf of the right leg.

Chittibabu-TVG (Chittibabu (veena) with a young T. V. Gopalakrishnan on mrudangam)

TVG sir is also an excellent vocalist and violinist. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity yet to hear his violin, but Vidwan S. Varadarajan is his most famous violin student and is a torchbearer of TVG sir’s style of violin playing.

On the other hand, I have had the good fortune to hear TVG sir’s vocal music. My aunt worked with him for a year or so and helped him publish a book on voice culture. Around that time, I attended TVG sir’s lecdem at the Madras Music Academy (during the December 2007 music season) on different types of thanam. My aunt helped prepare the powerpoint slides for the lecdem. I vividly recall TVG sir’s demonstration of the various aspects of thanam, as taught to him by Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. Most notably, I remember him demonstrating a type of thanam sounding like that of a frog croaking! Not surprisingly, he received the best lecture demonstration award that year, if my memory serves me correctly.

TVG-L Shankar-PR (TVG (vocal), L Shankar? (violin), and Palghat Raghu (mrudangam))

TVG sir has several mrudangam students, but so far the ones I have heard are Ambur Padmanabhan and Vijay Natesan. I distinctly remember last December Vijay Natesan performed with Bharat Sundar at the Music Academy; after a brilliant thani by Vijay Natesan, I saw TVG sir get up and leave…but not before giving his student a big two thumbs up!

This is a thani from a concert of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna in Bombay (don’t know what year or sabha, unfortunately). The uniqueness of TVG sir’s style is amply evident here.

July 11, 2014

chemistry jobs 2014 redux

Filed under: Chemistry Jobs — Tags: — sankirnam @ 5:21 pm

Rather surprisingly, there was a discussion earlier today on Reddit about chemistry graduate programs, which predictably turned into a dialogue about the poor job prospects for Chemistry Ph.D. graduates. It is rather telling that none of the OP’s comments got upvoted, and that the highest rated comments reiterate the notion that a chemistry Ph.D. is not worth it, and that it is worthwhile developing skills (such as programming) that translate to the tech sector. This is something I mentioned here 2 years ago, and it appears that the situation has not changed with time.

Slate published an article yesterday about the stagnating career options for Ph.D. graduates; this has been covered by Chemjobber and Derek Lowe as well. The main observation that can be made from the data is that the oft-used abbreviation “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) makes no sense. These are all disparate fields with their own variances in their individual job markets. Lumping these subjects together as “STEM” (which is done by all politicians these days, including President Barack Obama), results in the conflation of TE (for which employment demand is extremely strong) with science (which shows weak to negative demand). Chemjobber has long maintained that the “STEM” acronym should be abolished, and that when people say “STEM”, they actually mean “TE”. Fortunately, it looks like this is slowly starting to percolate into the mainstream.

I know increasing numbers of people who initially studied science at the graduate level, many of whom completed their Ph.D.’s, and are now working in the tech or finance sector, where jobs are much more lucrative and stable. As an example, Zipfian Academy conducts a 12-week intensive course in “data science” and states “91% of graduates placed into data science roles after 0-3 months at companies including Facebook, Tesla Motors, and many more. Our graduates make an average of $115K as a base salary following the program.”

(Usually I would scoff at the idea of “data science”…but at the end of the day, anything that is worth $115K has to be legitimate, right?).

I mean, seriously. Being a martyr for the cause of science and sacrificing the peak years of your youth for the sake of furthering human knowledge is a noble cause, but at the end of the day it is simply not worth it. When such insanely lucrative opportunities are there in other fields literally for the taking, why choose to study science? When you see that in other fields one can study for 3 months and be offered a salary over 100K, you realize that science is simply not worth it.

et tu, Science?

Filed under: Chemistry — Tags: , — sankirnam @ 11:52 am

Science Magazine recently published this article about Prof. Roy Periana (Scripps Florida) to much pomp and circumstance. I have previously addressed my thoughts on his recent work, and the fact that this has now also been covered in Science leaves me seriously puzzled and disappointed. I don’t have anything personal against Prof. Periana, but I am for the dissemination of good science (as opposed to marketing and hype). I will admit that with my limited knowledge, I am not the most qualified person to judge “good” from “bad” science, but I do want the public to have the correct impression of the state-of-the art in chemistry, based on current facts.

The introduction gets the facts correct; a process to efficiently and catalytically convert methane (CH4, the primary component of natural gas) to methanol (CH3OH, the simplest alcohol) would upturn the petrochemical industry. Methanol can be used as a primary fuel and also serves as a more convenient synthetic feedstock to fine chemicals and other higher hydrocarbons. This is the basis of the “Methanol Economy“, as propounded by Profs. George Olah and G. K. Surya Prakash. Another, slightly different approach, is the reductive approach starting from carbon dioxide (CO2).

In the 70’s, Prof. Olah discovered that the use of common oxidants (such as H2O2 or O3) in newly discovered superacid systems (such as HF-SbF5 or FSO3H-SbF5, also called Magic Acid) led to the selective oxidation of methane to methanol, a holy grail of hydrocarbon chemistry. This occurs due to the immediate protonation of methanol in the medium to form the methyloxonium ion. The proton serves as a “protecting group”, preventing further oxidation in the medium.

Periana’s work is therefore best viewed as a modification of Prof. Olah’s pioneering discoveries. The use of metal salts allows the reaction to be conducted in weaker acids (such as sulfuric acid). Now, it has been found that TFA (trifluoroacetic acid, which is about 10-10 times weaker than sulfuric acid) in conjuction with thallium or lead salts also promotes this reaction. The downsides, as I have mentioned before, are that the Tl and Pb salts required are toxic, expensive, and required in stoichiometric amounts. Also, another aspect not mentioned is that this reaction only generates alkyl trifluoroacetic esters, requiring an extra hydrolysis step to generate the desired alcohol (which then also has to be separated from the acid so produced).

The last paragraph, however, made me facepalm. Science made the same statement that C&EN made a few months ago: “It appears that some venture capitalists agree. Periana says he’s already seen interest from investment firms and large chemical companies in starting a company to develop the technology. If it works, Periana will finally achieve his goal of cheaply tweaking his favorite chemical bond, and just maybe change the world in the process.”

Again, if there are VC’s out there who lack even a modicum of chemistry knowledge and are moronic enough to fund this enterprise…then yes, the world will be changed rather irreversibly by widespread thallium and lead poisoning.

It’s articles like these (based on hype rather than facts) that make me ashamed to call myself a chemist in this day and age…

potato salad, anyone?

Filed under: Internet craziness — sankirnam @ 9:17 am

The internet is a strange and wonderful place, where fortunes are made, memes come and go, and people are willing to pay obscene amounts of money for potato salad!?!?

potato salad

(It was up to $70K a few days ago. Note that there are still 21 days left, so the total could potentially go even higher).

The collective stupidity of the people in this country baffles me. I mean, if there are really this many idiots lying around with extra cash to throw away…

A couple of years of austerity wouldn’t hurt, and would help the populace find its soul again.

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