Thursday, July 9, 2015

ECONOMICS: Should foreigners be charged more?

Should foreigners be charged more?

That is a sign from either the Mysore Zoo or the Somnathpur temple in Mysore. It may well be some other place. It doesn't matter. This practice of charging foreigners more is commonplace all over India. At virtually every major tourist attraction, you see something like this. The question is : is it fair to charge foreigners more? I used to feel differently about this. It seemed to me, at one point, grossly unfair. But I have now made my peace with it. It is just a case of price discrimination.

Price discrimination is used in a variety of industrial sectors. (For example: you pay a lot more for cellphones than people in other countries, e.g. India.) This particular instance seems to be a form of subsidy to Indian nationals, which seems okay. As I was saying, there is price discrimination going on in many other tourist attractions as well. And why is that? Because it is more costly for the government to go after someone who does deface monuments and other tourist structures if he is a foreigner. Why not pass the cost along to the consumer? It is annoying, yes, but I think it is because it is so in-your-face. It is not because it is inherently unfair.

Even in the United States, there is virtually the exact same phenomenon going on with out-of-state tuition rates. Out-of-state tuition rates are often ridiculously high. And then, these higher rates are used to subsidize people who are from the state. This is not unfair. It is just the economics of the matter. It is just the way the cookie crumbles.

Acknowledgements: picture courtesy Bhaskaran Raman (modulo some minor photoshopping).

INNOVATION: Moving over from Silicon

Meanwhile, from the University of Southern California:
When it comes to electronics, silicon will now have to share the spotlight. In a paper recently published in Nature Communications, researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering describe how they have overcome a major issue in carbon nanotube technology by developing a flexible, energy-efficient hybrid circuit combining carbon nanotube thin film transistors with other thin film transistors. This hybrid could take the place of silicon as the traditional transistor material used in electronic chips, since carbon nanotubes are more transparent, flexible, and can be processed at a lower cost. 
Electrical engineering professor Dr. Chongwu Zhou and USC Viterbi graduate students Haitian Chen, Yu Cao, and Jialu Zhang developed this energy-efficient circuit by integrating carbon nanotube (CNT) thin film transistors (TFT) with thin film transistors comprised of indium, gallium and zinc oxide (IGZO).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Our very own Krishnan Shankar on Three Quarks Daily!

Research from our very own Krishnan Shankar is now on Three Quarks Daily. Check it out!

The mathematics of the everyday is often surprisingly deep and difficult. John Conway famously uses the departmental lounge of the Princeton mathematics department as his office. He claims to spend his days playing games and doing nothing with whomever happens to be in the lounge, but his conversations about seemingly mundane questions has led to no end of delightful and deep mathematics. Chatting with math folks about the everyday can quickly lead to undiscovered country.
A much loved tradition among any group of mathematicians is talking math in the department lounge at afternoon tea. Nearly every department has such a tea. Some are once a week, some every day. There may or may not be cookies. What is certain, though, is that everyone from the retired emeriti to undergraduate students are welcome to stop by for a revitalizing beverage and a chat. More often than not it leads to talk about interesting math. You can begin to imagine why John Conway hangs out in the Princeton math lounge and Alfréd Rényi joked "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems" [1].

You might think the conversation swirls around the work of the latest winners of the Abel prize or folks trying to impress by describing the deep results of their morning's efforts. There is some of that. But just as often the conversation turns into an energetic discussion about the mathematics of the everyday. Several years ago I was involved in a heated discussion about whether or not the election laws of the State of Georgia could allow for a certain local election to become caught in an endless loop of runoff votes. The local media's description of the electoral rules seemed to allow this absurdity. Of course the argument could easily be resolved with a quick Google search, but where's the fun in that? A search was done, but not until all possible scenarios were thoroughly thrashed out and a nickel wagered.
My colleagues, Kimball Martin and Ravi Shankar, asked themselves an innocuous tea-time question: "How often should you clean your room?" Easy to ask, the question is surprisingly difficult to solve. In math problems come in three flavors: so easy as to be not very interesting, so hard as to be unsolvable, and the sweet spot in the middle where the questions are both interesting and solvable. When to clean your room turns out to be a question of the third kind.

The Stockholm Public Library
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

INNOVATION: Intel tech brings us closer to the world of 'Minority Report'

You've spent years -- decades -- typing on a keyboard and dragging your mouse around to control your computer. Intel wants to radically shake that all up. 
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich on Tuesday offered a glimpse into the company's vision of the near future with demonstrations of cutting-edge technologies, including gesture controls, facial recognition security prompts, drones that know how to move around obstacles and a jacket that can help the visually impaired sense what's around them. 
At the heart of many of the demonstrations during his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show was Intel's RealSense 3D, the company's depth-sensing camera technology. Intel is banking heavily on the future of RealSense. If successful, it could mean a radical change in how we interact with computers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TECHNOLOGY: The W3C and OGC pledge to ease the path for developing location-enriched Web data

From ordering pizza online to pinpointing the exact location of a breaking news story, an overwhelming portion of data on the Web has geographic elements. Yet for Web developers, wrangling the most value from geospatial information remains an arduous task. 
Now the standards body for the Web has partnered with the standards body for geographic information systems (GIS) to help make better use of the Web for sharing geospatial data. 
Both the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) have launched working groups devoted to the task. They are pledging to closely coordinate their activities and publish joint recommendations.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

TECHNOLOGY: Columbia Engineering Team Finds Thousands of Secret Keys in Android Apps

In a paper presented—and awarded the prestigious Ken Sevcik Outstanding Student Paper Award—at the ACM SIGMETRICS conference on June 18, Jason Nieh, professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering, and PhD candidate Nicolas Viennot reported that they have discovered a crucial security problem in Google Play, the official Android app store where millions of users of Android, the most popular mobile platform, get their apps. 
“Google Play has more than one million apps and over 50 billion app downloads, but no one reviews what gets put into Google Play—anyone can get a $25 account and upload whatever they want. Very little is known about what’s there at an aggregate level,” says Nieh, who is also a member of the University’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering’s Cybersecurity Center. “Given the huge popularity of Google Play and the potential risks to millions of users, we thought it was important to take a close look at Google Play content.” 
Nieh and Viennot’s paper is the first to make a large-scale measurement of the huge Google Play marketplace. To do this, they developed PlayDrone, a tool that uses various hacking techniques to circumvent Google security to successfully download Google Play apps and recover their sources. PlayDrone scales by simply adding more servers and is fast enough to crawl Google Play on a daily basis, downloading more than 1.1 million Android apps and decompiling over 880,000 free applications.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

INNOVATION: You will be able to touch the internet by 2035, and it will touch back

With smartphones and their touchscreens, we were given the ability to interact with the internet like never before—we could touch, pinch, and zoom in on webpages—but aside from occasional popups and notifications, we didn’t get much interaction in return. The next generation of wireless devices could change that. 
In perhaps 20 years, we could have a wireless network that would send and receive vast amounts of data in less than one millisecond. At that speed, we would be able to match the reaction speed the human body has to touching something, meaning we could control objects anywhere in the world, in real time, from a mobile device and get the sensation that we were controlling something right in front of us. 
Gerhard Fettweis, a professor at the Dresden University of Technology, believes that 5G, the next generation of wireless technology, could be fast enough to create a network of instant-reaction internet devices, mimicking the experience of real life. A study released in December exploring the future of 5G includes Fettweis’ connectivity concept, which he’s calling the “Tactile Internet.”