## on [not] making tea

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2021 by xi'an

By chance, when looking for information on the film that usually appears on top of tea brews (!), I came upon this highly ranked blog entry of a security expert explaining how not to make tea. Which did not seem completely right in my tea-oholic eyes..! Not that the following rambling is of any relevance whatsoever!

On the agreement side, it is indeed hard to get decent tea in most places, the primary reason being a lack of understanding that very hot water is needed. The worst being these cafés where they bring you a cup of (definitely not hot) water with a tea bag on the side! I used to travel with my own kettle to avoid this issue, but I am striving to carry as little stuff as possible and hence gave up on that habit. Instead, I often take a thermos bottle that contains an infuser: all that is needed is hot water!

On the disagreement side, the obvious resolution of most complaints about poor quality tea, “herbal teas” that are not tea, tea bags in general, &tc., is to carry your own loose tea. It is light and keeps well and cannot disappoint. And can be brewed several times, especially oolongs. The section about milk is beyond discussion as tea with milk is another beverage altogether. I certainly enjoy drinking duh-wali-chai  in India and am even making some at home from time to time, but otherwise I stopped putting milk in my tea during the first COVID lockdown. (Which also considerably simplified my tea consumption when travelling: all that is needed is hot water!) The main issue is however in using boiling water. Which is almost never recommended for brewing tea! Especially green and Darjeeling teas. Instead of using water above 90⁰, one should stay below 90⁰… Especially when running several brews. Not only this keeps the bitterness under control but it avoids loosing oxygen and CO² contained in the water.

As an aside, this film/sheen is the result of “an interfacial reaction of polyphenols and other components in the tea that bond with ions in the water”.

## the Ramanujan machine

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2021 by xi'an

Nature of 4 Feb. 2021 offers a rather long (Nature-like) paper on creating Ramanujan-like expressions using an automated process. Associated with a cover in the first pages. The purpose of the AI is to generate conjectures of Ramanujan-like formulas linking famous constants like π or e and algebraic formulas like the novel polynomial continued fraction of 8/π²:

$\frac{8}{{{\rm{\pi }}}^{2}}=1-\frac{2\times {1}^{4}-{1}^{3}}{7-\frac{2\times {2}^{4}-{2}^{3}}{19-\frac{2\times {3}^{4}-{3}^{3}}{37-\frac{2\times {4}^{4}-{4}^{3}}{\ldots }}}}$

which currently remains unproven. The authors of the “machine” provide Python code that one can run to try uncover new conjectures, possibly named after the discoverer! The article is spending a large proportion of its contents to justify the appeal of generating such conjectures, with several unsuspected formulas later proven for real, but I remain unconvinced of the deeper appeal of the machine (as well as unhappy about the association of Ramanujan and machine, since S. Ramanujan had a mystical and unexplained relation to numbers, defeating Hardy’s logic,  “a mathematician of the highest quality, a man of altogether exceptional originality and power”). The difficulty is in separating worthwhile from anecdotal (true) conjectures, not to mention wrng conjectures. This is certainly of much deeper interest than separating chihuahua faces from blueberry muffins, but does it really “help to create mathematical knowledge”?

## can you spare a dime? [or rather 113,900?]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2020 by xi'an

Just read the announcement in Nature of 24 November that

Publisher Springer Nature has announced how scientists can make their papers in its most selective titles free to read as soon as they are published.

which is presented as a great advance to make scientific papers available for all to read. The catch is that there is no free lunch, obviously, as the author(s) have to pay Springer a 1,514,324.68 krónur charge for immediate open access! The Nature article does mention the issue obviously, as this is such a huge amount of money that it makes publishing under such conditions inaccessible for all academics but those with sufficient funding grants. It also mentions an alternate scheme contemplated by some Nature outlets to introduce “a non-refundable fee of €2,190 to cover an editorial assessment and the peer-review process.” None of the fee going to reviewers, apparently. This “evolution” (?!) is driven by the EU Plan S for making scientific publications available to all, but it even more crucially calls for a radical reassessment of publishing policies for research that is publicly funded and publicly reviewed, then paid again by publicly funded libraries and institutions. Even more radical than India’s push for `One nation, one subscription’.

## another book on J.B.S. Haldane [review of a book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2020 by xi'an

As I noticed a NYT book review of a most recent book on J.B.S. Haldane, I realised several other books had already been written about him. From an early 1985 biography, “Haldane: the life and work of J.B.S. Haldane with special references to India” followed by a “2016 biographyPopularizing Science” along an  2009 edited book on some Haldane’s essays, “What I require from life“, all by Krishna R. Dronamraju to a 1969 biography with the cryptic title “J.B.S.“, by Richard Clarke, along with a sensational 2018 “Comrade Haldane Is Too Busy to Go on Holiday: The Genius Who Spied for Stalin” by Gavan Tredoux, depicting him as a spy for the Soviet Union during WW II. (The last author is working on a biography of Francis Galton, hopefully exonerating him of spying for the French! But a short text of him comparing Haldane and Darlington appears to support the later’s belief in racial differences in intelligence…) I also discovered that J.B.S. had written a children book, “Mr Friend Mr. Leaky“, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl’s illustrator. (Charlotte Franken Haldane, J.B.S.’s first wife, also wrote a considerable number of books.)

The NYT review is more a summary of Haldane’s life than an analysis of the book itself, hard as it is not to get mesmerised by the larger-than-life stature of J.B.S. It does not dwell very long on the time it took Haldane to break from the Communist Party for its adherence to the pseudo-science Lysenko (while his wife Charlotte had realised the repressive nature of the Soviet regime much earlier, which may have led to their divorce). While the review makes no mention at all of Haldane’s ideological move to the ISI in Kolkata, it concludes with “for all his failings, he was “deeply attractive during a time of shifting, murky moralities.”” [The double quotes being the review quoting the book!]

## enjoy a cuppa for International Tea Day

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2020 by xi'an