Archive for December, 2012

Mo Yan’s Nobel Banquet Speech

Newly minted Nobel-laureate Mo Yan picked up his prize in Stockholm this past Monday.

His speech will do little to appease his critics (including Salman Rushdie, who with typical applomb called Mo Yan a “patsy” of the regime). It neither criticized government censorship nor called for the release of fellow Nobel Laureate dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Instead, the writer said that for “a farm boy from Gaomi’s Northeast Township in far-away China, standing here in this world-famous hall after having received the Nobel Prize in Literature feels like a fairy tale, but of course it is true.”

The closest reference to politics cames when Mo said, “I am also well aware that literature only has a minimal influence on political disputes or economic crises in the world, but its significance to human beings is ancient. When literature exists, perhaps we do not notice how important it is, but when it does not exist, our lives become coarsened and brutal. For this reason, I am proud of my profession, but also aware of its importance.”

Instead, he spoke of the impact that his rural upbringing had on his work, ending his speech: “I was, am and always will be one of you. I also thank the fertile soil that gave birth to me and nurtured me. It is often said that a person is shaped by the place where he grows up. I am a storyteller, who has found nourishment in your humid soil. Everything that I have done, I have done to thank you!”

Read the full speech here.

The 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize Longlist

Drum roll please! The novels longlisted for the prestigious 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize are out.

The list includes fifteen authors from nine different Asian countries. Special kudos to Chinese authors Sheng Keyi, of Northern Girls, and Tie Ning – The Bathing Women

The winner will be announced on March 14th, 2013. Good luck!

Full list:

–         Goat Days – Benyamin (India)

–         Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan)

–         Another Country – Anjali Joseph (India)

–         The Briefcase – Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)

–         Thinner Than Skin – Uzma Aslam Khan (Pakistan)

–         Ru – Kim Thúy (Vietnam / Canada*)

–         Black Flower – Young-Ha Kim (South Korea)

–         Island of a Thousand Mirrors – Nayomi Munaweera (Sri Lanka)

–         Silent House – Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)

–         Honour – Elif Shafak (Turkey)

–         Northern Girls – Sheng Keyi (China)

–         The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)

–         The Road To Urbino – Roma Tearne (Sri Lanka / U.K.*)

–         Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (India)

–         The Bathing Women – Tie Ning (China)

When Venus Transits the Sun: A Q & A with astronomer Richard Strom

Understanding Science is a new event series of scientific seminars for the general public, brought to you by The Institute of Physics (IOP), RSC and Euraxess: Researchers in Motion. This Wednesday, Richard Strom (NAOC, ASTRON & University of Amsterdam) discusses “When Venus Transits the Sun: Heroic efforts to observe a rare event.” This event is brought to you by The Institute of Physics (IOP), RSC and Euraxess: Researchers in Motion.

Here, event speaker astronomer Richard Strom gives some insight into the once in a lifetime phenomenon. 

Mengfei Chen: What actually happens when Venus transits the Sun? What does it look like?

Richard Strom: Only the inner planets (Venus and Mercury) can pass between the earth and the sun, blocking a tiny amount of sunlight. During a Venus transit the sunlight is dimmed by about 0.1% (it’s a mini- mini- mini-solar eclipse). In that sense not very impressive. But a transit of Venus can be seen with the unaided eye (Mercury cannot, it’s too small), provided solar glare is dimmed (for example by haze, smoke, observing when the sun is near the horizon, or through a solar filter). It looks rather like a small sunspot, and in fact many medieval reports of transits were actually observations of sunspots. Someone I know who saw the 2004 transit of Venus said, it looks like someone punched a hole in the sun.

MC: Have you seen it? Could you describe the experience?

RS: I have seen it, with the aid of a telescope. While nowhere near as impressive as a solar eclipse, it was a special moment to think that no one then alive had seen the previous Venus transit (in 1882). Unlike a sunspot, the shadow of the planet was perfectly round, with a clean, unfuzzy appearance; beautiful in its modest way.

MC: When was the transit first predicted? Observed?

RS: Kepler in 1630 predicted that there would be a Venus transit in 1631, but it could not be seen from Europe. In 1639, the brilliant English amateur Jeremiah Horrocks predicted – just weeks before the event – and then observed the first transit on 24 November (old style). He and his fellow amateur William Crabtree were the only observers of the 1639 transit.

MC: Why were the attempts to see the transit heroic?

RS: To achieve the scientific aims, a transit had to be observed over a wide range of latitude, so teams were sent to remote locations. The heroism in the eighteenth, and to a lesser extent nineteenth, century lay in getting there. Many expedition members suffered hardship, and a not insignificant number lost their lives.

MC: Scientifically, why was the transit important?

RS: For two centuries it was seen as the best method for determining the distance between the Earth and the Sun, which is technically called the astronomical unit. It is the fundamental unit of distance in astronomy, our measure of scale from the nearest stars to the furthest galaxies.

MC: When will the next transit occur? 

RS: 105 years and 6 days after my talk, on 11 December 2117. If it’s cloudy where you are, no fear. There’ll be a repeat in December 2125.

Correction: An earlier version of this post credited the answers to Professor Richard de Grijs.

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