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Pocket reading list : Week 1 of April

These Astronomical Glass Plates Made History : For those of you who are old enough, you will remember that before there were digital cameras, photos were recorded on films and there was a studio where the films had to be taken to have them developed into pictures. Before CCDs (the chips inside digital cameras that made the films obsolete) revolutionised astronomy, astronomers used to use films, rather plates, to record images of astronomical objects and their spectra. This is an account of such plates that made history, that record some of the biggest and paradigm-shifting discoveries in astronomy.

The fall… and rise and rise and rise of chat networks : The first chat network that I ever used was google chat, which is now google hangout, and yahoo messenger. I don't know why but I wasn't into MSN Messenger. But there was a time before mine when chat networks were smaller, less technologically advanced and more geeky, so to say. This is a brilliant account of how chat networks came started, in academia of course, and how they came to be.

A slow farewell – Time to say goodbye to Philae : For those of you who didn't know, the European Space Agency (ESA), landed a probe, called Philae, on a comet. After travelling through space for almost a decade, trying to catch up to the comet on it's way around the sun, the Rosetta satellite reached the comet last summer and landed the probe soon after. On-Site observations can help make sense of observations from orbiting satellites and Philae too helped the Rosetta satellite map the interior of the comet. But, there were problems when ESA was attempting to land the Philae probe on the comet and complications after landing. This is an account of what all the Philae lander, and the Rosetta satellite have been able to achieve so far. If you're interested, you can read "Inside Rosetta’s comet" for more information and insight into what the Rosetta satellite has been able to achieve over the last year.

Dawn Journal: Measuring Light : Dawn is the name of a satellite that NASA launched, one which set the record for the only satellite to have orbited two drawf planets - Ceres and Vesta. The satellite is nearing it's end and this is an account of how the Dawn satellite is helping us understand the dwarf planet/proto-planet Ceres better!

The story of cities, part 1: how Alexandria laid foundations for the modern world : One of the corner stones of modern human civilizations, in my opinion, are the cities that we build and thrive in. Over the course of human evolution, it has been hypothesized that as groups of hunter-gatherers/farmers come together and live as one, new roles arise for individuals in the group. Specialised skills such as tool making or artisanship can thrive when individuals are relieved from the duty of feeding their immediate family. From a series on the story of cities, this is one on how the Great City of Alexandria came to be.

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Animation using GNUPlot

Animation using GNUPlotI've been trying to create an animation depicting a quasar spectrum moving across the 5 SDSS pass bands with respect to redshift. It is important to visualise what emission lines are moving in and out of bands to be able to understand the color-redshift plots and the changes in it.
I've tried doing this using the animate function in matplotlib, python but i wasn't able to make it work - meaning i worked on it for a couple of days and then i gave up, not having found solutions for my problems on the internet.
And then i came across this site, where the gunn-peterson trough and the lyman alpha forest have been depicted - in a beautiful manner. And this got me interested in using js and d3 to do the animations and make it dynamic - using sliders etc.
In the meanwhile, i thought i'd look up and see if there was a way to create animations in gnuplot and whoopdedoo, what do i find but nirvana!

In the image, you see 5 static curves and one dynam…

on MOOCs.

For those of you who don't know, MOOC stands for Massively Open Online Course.

The internet is an awesome thing. It's making education free for all. Well, mostly free. But it's surprising at the width and depth of courses being offered online. And it looks like they are also having an impact on students, especially those from universities that are not top ranked. Students in all parts of the world can now get a first class education experience, thanks to courses offered by Stanford, MIT, Caltech, etc.

I'm talking about MOOCs because one of my new year resolutions is to take online courses, atleast 2 per semester (6 months). And I've chosen the following two courses on edX - Analyzing Big Data with Microsoft R Server and Data Science Essentials for now. I looked at courses on Coursera but I couldn't find any which was worthy and free. There are a lot more MOOC providers out there but let's start here. And I feel like the two courses are relevant to where I …

On programmers.

I just watched this brilliant keynote today. It's a commentary on Programmers and the software development industry/ecosystem as a whole.

I am not going to give you a tl;dr version of the talk because it is a talk that I believe everyone should watch, that everyone should learn from. Instead, I am going to give my own parallel-ish views on programmers and programming.
As pointed out in the talk, there are mythical creatures in the software development industry who are revered as gods. Guido Van Rossum, the creator of Python, was given the title Benevolent Dictator For Life (BDFL). People flock around the creators of popular languages or libraries. They are god-like to most programmers and are treated like gods. By which, I mean to say, we assume they don't have flaws. That they are infallible. That they are perfect.
And alongside this belief in the infallibility of these Gods, we believe that they were born programmers. That programming is something that people are born wit…