Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hindu Studies Post 8 - Angels, demons and the Jughead analogy

My organizational perspective on Hindu Studies have been fully fleshed out in a paper I wrote for OB 280 under Prof. Siino at Stanford. I believe that the basic problem is one of incentives. Professors in certain fields such as Hindu Studies have no incentive not to publish controversial but biased studies. It helps them get recognition and later tenure.

It may be easiest to illustrate this using the Jughead cartoon below. The good guys (the angels) in Hindu Studies have an ongoing battle with the bad guys (the devils). The bad guys publish controversial but biased studies. The good guys react. The bad guys continue to pile more bad studies on top of the bad ones that already exist. It is then up to the good guys to both point out the errors in the analysis and then publish their own correct analysis. This takes time.

Given this problem of incentives, it should not be difficult to see why the good guys end up, in a metaphorical sense, mowing the lawn.

Update: fixed typos. Removed the first paragraph. I am going to choose to not reveal the hypotheses used in this study in order to prevent people from gaming the system.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hindu Studies Post 7 - An online survey at Stanford a.k.a. the Rich Scholar/Poor Scholar hypothesis of Hinduism

Please find below an online survey at Stanford:

It is useful in the social sciences to clarify your hypothesis/hypotheses prior to a study. Following this point as a guide to methodology, I will list out the hypotheses I am studying. (Update (July 29, 2:25 PM)): I have decided not to publish the actual hypotheses being used to prevent people from gaming the system. Instead, I have sent in my set of hypotheses to two professors. This is the usual methodology for the social sciences).

One of the main hypothesis in the theory of Hinduism I outlined earlier ("The End of History and the Last Hindu") is that Hindus after the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution fundamentally different from the Hindus before them. A theory is only useful insofar as it has predictive power.

This leads us to directly to a prediction of the theory : the ideas proposed by the Alternate School scholars of Hinduism (Wendy Doniger and Paul Courtright) are likely to be rejected by the majority of Hindus. This is for the following reason :
  • Wendy Doniger and Paul Courtright study the writings of Hindus prior to the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution and make predictions about Hindus today. This is bad methodology. According to this theory, the ideas proposed by the Alternate School scholars of Hinduism will be rejected by most post-Enlightenment Hindus.
The point is that the work done by Paul Courtright and Wendy Doniger is not just biased. It is wrong. It is bad scholarship written by not-so-rich people. So I suppose you could call this the "Smart Scholar/Dumb Scholar" hypothesis of Hinduism. But in order to make sure I am keeping within the confines of academic discourse, I am going to call it the "Rich Scholar/Poor Scholar" hypothesis. The hypothesis is that rich scholars are likely to do better research than poor scholars. The reason for this is that rich scholars are likely not only to have more resources, but also a greater incentive in terms of alternative career paths. So they would be more inclined to preserve their reputations in case the research does not pan out. Now, if you are Wendy Doniger or Paul Courtright, you are probably looking at research without regard to whether the writer is rich or poor. This may introduce a bias in your research finding unless you actively work to remove it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hee-yah! I am the King Kong of Internet debates!

The 'Ask the Delphic Oracle' juggernaut marches on. The King Kong of Internet debates is still going strong.

As part of the mathematics and computer science community, we, of course, believe in hard data and evidence. Towards that, below is a documentary of a recent Internet debate that unfortunately turned ugly.

And finally, for something completely different -  an administrative note. The next office hours will be on August 5, Monday, between 7:30 and 8:15 am PST. Happy puzzling!

One campus, seven cafeterias

Here is a puzzle a friend asked me yesterday evening at Stanford. Might have been Palo Alto actually. Anyway, here it goes. It is in my own words. The mathematical problem is the same although the wording has been changed.

I solved it. Now, you try!


College ThingamajigANameIForget on Mars is building seven new cafeterias. The college campus is a perfect planar circle with a radius of 1 km. The college wants to build the cafeteria so that each of them is located within the planar circle. The cafeterias should be so arranged as to minimize the maximum distance any student would have to travel to reach a cafeteria given that the student is located on campus.

In mathematical terms: you are given a circle C of radius 1 km and seven points. Arrange the seven points inside the circle so that you solve the following constrained optimization problem.

Let d(P, i) denote the linear distance between point P and cafeteria i.
Let dist(P) = min(d(P,i) for i ranging from 1 to 6)

That is, dist(P) is the minimum distance a student located at P would have to travel to reach some cafeteria.

Arrange the 7 cafeterias such that dist(P) is minimized when P is ranged over all points within the circle C.

Update: fixed typo in post.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Eradicating Malaria, with the Tools at Hand: Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Notre Dame Will Create Computer Infrastructure to Support Global Malaria Project

A global partnership has set its sights on nothing less than making malaria — an implacable enemy that predates the human race — nothing more than a bad memory. VECNet, the Vector Ecology and Control Network, aims to get there by combining and supporting the ingenuity of researchers, engineers, public health officials, national decision makers and funding agencies.

The idea is to create a computer model that allows malaria-battling stakeholders to join efforts.

“VECNet is about bringing order out of chaos,” says Tom Burkot, VECNet’s principal investigator and professor and tropical leader at James Cook University, Australia. “The challenge we have is that we’re trying to control and eliminate malaria in a world in which, for example, there are 40 or 50 dominant mosquito species that are important for its spread.”

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tamil language proposal - follow up to Richard Sproat

To summarize Richard Sproat's main point - changes to script by itself is not likely to improve learning outcomes. I emailed Sproat because he is one of the people who has argued AGAINST improvements, or changes if you will, to orthography by itself improving learning outcomes. Our proposal seeks to make curriculum only one of the components in the integrated solution (details of the overall solution may be seen in my letter to Richard Sproat - see link above - that post should provide you all the details you need to see where we are going). In the end, Sproat said, IIRC, that it "sounds like we have a plan". That is good to know. I am happy.

To conclude this thread, here is my response email to Sproat.


<stuff deleted>

Three comments on this:

1. We have both a curriculum and a process for teaching. One cannot view these in isolation.

2. The orthography itself also has a process involved which I did not talk about sufficiently. The idea is to teach the new orthography to Heritage Speakers of the language ( The new orthography is simpler for that population P1 to retain (and so it stands to reason that it would be simpler for the other populaton P2 - the set of all children in India - as well since P1 has generally speaking, higher IQ than P2 and more resources, but we don't have to argue about that population P2 since that population is so diverse - all sorts of issues like caste and level of incomes become factors). The Heritage Speakers would learn it as part of programs such as Teach for India (which is similar to Teach for America) and then teach that to the children.

I have tried out [the proposal on "users"] a number of times already. The learning curve for learning this system is about 5 minutes. It is entirely understandable even to somebody who does not even know that such a system is being used.

3. In addition to this, we can also do marketing around an idea such as this. This would be relatively cheap marketing

<stuff deleted>


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hindu Studies Post 7 - some comments on Socratic Hinduism

Earlier this week, I exchanged some emails with John Laxmi (South Asian Journalists Association). That reminded me that I need to take my post on SAForum on the SAJA's website which has some comments on Socratic Hinduism, and repost it to this blog here.

The comments are in the context of Namit Arora's post on Three Quarks Daily.


It is interesting that Namit is planning to talk about how the epic was received by Nagarjuna and other people from pre-modern times. This is (part of) the usual methodology used by students of Hinduism, but I am not convinced that this approach (of looking at pre-modern commentaries) will yield significant, new conclusions given that these people knew far less than we do now. I am quite convinced that these "traditional scholars" lived such a long time ago that their opinions do not have much bearing on current theories surrounding Hinduism, and so it seems that this methodology has significant shortcomings. 

A particularly useful (and, in my opinion, a far more fruitful) approach to studying texts such as the Bhagavad Gita (and Hinduism, in general) is to use recent studies in neuroscience to see how the human brain has evolved ideas of morality, and to see how epics (and other religious texts) have contributed since premodern times in creating and imprinting various (perhaps different) notions of morality in us. This is (part of) the methodology I have used for the Socratic Hinduism framework that I have talked about before. 

Why is it useful to look at neuroscience to study how the human brain is wired for morality? Because it seems that some of the notions of morality we subscribe to seem to be pretty strongly wired in us. Milton Friedman once gave an example of how libertarianism works. He said that libertarians don't want to coerce other people into accepting some particular opinion as correct. However, he recognized that there were a few exception even for libertarians. The example he used, IIRC, was of a man who was going to jump off a bridge. Would a libertarian try to save him if he could? Probably. Now if the man proceeded to give reasons why he was committing suicide, would the libertarian then allow him to jump (because the libertarian, true to principle, would agree to disagree)? Probably not. No matter how strongly a person may believe in certain ideas not just politically but even personally, there are certain types of behavior that he may never be able to let go of. Another example of the resistance of people to killing others is evidenced in the trolley problem ( Both these examples would indicate that the human brain has certain notions of morality that it cannot easily let go of. (Note that none of this (scientific) discussion is considered in the least bit to be a heresy in Hinduism, and indeed, I consider the Socratic Hinduism a perfectly valid approach to view Hinduism for both Hindus and non-Hindus.)      

This methodological approach makes the Socratic Hinduism framework quite powerful. It makes it both academic and scholarly, thereby countering one of the major academic criticisms of "traditional" studies of Hinduism (such as by Wendy Doniger). In fact, we do not need to discuss our own beliefs regarding whether or not the events described in the Mahabharatha actually occurred. That is left as a matter of scholarly inquiry for historians. Instead, the idea is that the texts may be used as part of a Socratic discussion wherein by guided questioning, one delves deeper into some of the issues of ethics and moral philosophy that the epic presents. Indeed, the historical role of these religious texts has been to raise these question of ethics and moral philosophy and help people appreciate the complexity of some of these issues. That has always been the role of these texts, and that is what it continues to be under Socratic Hinduism.

Moving on to more pragmatic concerns : in America today, you typically don't find fundamentalist readings of these texts at any of the major universities. The text is generally taught with a spirit of 'tolerance'. In India today, the legal system defines Hinduism as one that recognizes 'multiple' ways (the legal status of Hinduism in India is a different discussion altogether). There is a real separation of religion and state in both countries, and so I don't see very much worrisome, or even concerning, about the particular opinions on war as expressed by the various religious texts of Hinduism (such as the Gita) as well as the various academic approaches to Hinduism (Socratic Hinduism, included). The Gita's impact on policy is likely to remain quite insignificant.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tamil language proposal : letter to Richard Sproat

My letter to Richard Sproat on the Tamil language proposal. Obviously, this is a very simplified and linear version of things.


To come to the problem at hand - we are focused on trying to figure out what will help populations of people P1, P2, ..., Pn (primary population P{k} = elementary school children) learn better. There are several variables X1, X2, ..., Xn that may explain the outcome variable L (learning outcome). One of the most important variables X{j} is 'teacher absenteeism'. (This runs to as much as 40% even in states in Tamil Nadu). This is already known. Furthermore, some recent experiements show that the problem of teacher absenteeism can be amelioerated by appropriate incentive measures ('pay them to take a photograph of their classroom as proof of attendance and they get extra money for more classes attended as a bonus' -> this works very well in practice (very little cheating was observed)).

Now, the issues are around matters such as curriculum design. On this also some encouraging results appear to have been found.Adopting a factory model of production approach, the basic problem in teaching Tamil today for children is that the structure of the teaching is not tailored to the organizational environment. The organizational environment is such that there is a large amount of variance in terms of labor input from the teachers (i.e. there is frequent teacher absenteeism, student absenteeism, et cetera). The way to resolve this problem is to build 'resilience' in the curriculum. One way to do this is as follows :

- break down the teaching of literacy into subunits (teach letters T1, teach wordsi T2, teach sentencesi T3 and teach storiesi T4)
- break up children into small learning groups of 5 to 8. Call them G1, G2, G3, and G4. Each group Gi is involved in task Ti. Children progress through the learning groups starting off in G1 and as they pick up skills and demonstrate facility with skill in tier T{i}, they are moved to tier T{i+1}- this is a 'resilient' organization because even if teachers are absent, children can work through many of these exercises on their own in their individual subgroups G{i}. That is, children themselves provide the missing labor input.

The hypothesis is that for organizations wherein there is a large variance V{L} in the organization labor input L, such a system would have better outcomes because the variance inthe labor input is ameliorated by the fact that children themselves can provide some of the labor input.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Internet Thunderdome Projects

This post began when I was hungry. I was hungry and feeling pretty grouchy. I saw some comments posted by a friend on my Facebook page. It was by Manoj Saranathan, someone I know both as a Facebook friend and a fellow Bay Area Quiz Club quizzer. Now, my Facebook page is really just an extension of this blog. So I saw these comments from my friend Manoj, and I decided to be, well, a little less than my polite self. Not impolite, I am just about never impolite. It is simply that I made some pretty blunt remarks in my reply to him and also, I edited out some of his comments. This turned into a "fight". So, a fight it was, and in the end, he decided that he would rather unfriend me than be "censored", as he put it. I only edited his comments, to be honest. But there it was. An actual unfriending.

So. So, I have been turning the details of the "fight" over and over in my mind. What I felt was that there was something of Quality in my friend Manoj's comments and there was something about those comments that is present only in the best fora and the best commenters. (I and Manoj are still friends in the real world, by the way, and so that is all there is to say about that little spat). Anyway, that brings me to the topic du jour - Internet Thunderdomes.

With widespread public access to the Internet, pretty much anybody who is anybody is either on the Internet already or is deliberately keeping himself or herself off the Internet. There are now, I believe, several public fora that may be called, for the lack of a better word, Internet Thunderdome Projects. What, in the world, is an Internet Thunderdome? Well, this is how it is. The rule of a Internet Thunderdome is simple - "Two men enter, one man leaves". An Internet Thunderdome is a forum for public intellectuals to debate other people. Bad ideas get rubbished and destroyed. Good ideas are allowed to flourish. When anyone or any group of people builds an Internet Thunderdome, he or she (or they) must possess three things:

(1) knowledge : should know the literature in all the major areas of human inquiry
(2) skills : should be able to debate on the Internet skilfully
(3) experience : should have proven himself or herself in a number of Internet debates.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Office hours

The next office hours for the blog will be on Monday, August 5. It will be at the usual times - between 7:30 and 8:15 am. In the meantime, here is another interesting TED talk on food that is worth watching. The title of the talk is "What's wrong with our food system". Enjoy!

Update: All times are in PST, as usual. (Also, moved the post forward to July 12.)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hindi language proposal - executive summary

My proposal for the Hindi language is very similar to that for Tamil. The document is in preparation. Here is what the executive summary looks like.

The features of the proposal are as follows:

(1) the use of the wave on top of the horizontal line for the short 'o' and the short 'e' sounds (see the examples of 'Kobilka' and 'Fett')
(2) the alphabetization of the Hindi language : note the use of vowels and consonants alternating in, for instance, Brian. (The 'b' with the 'halant', the Hindi letter for 'ra', the Hindi letter for 'ya' and then the 'n' with the 'halant').

Update 1: the above image is the proposal. There is nothing more to the Hindi language proposal than this.
Update 2: That, btw, is page #459 of Foucault's Pendulum. I can attest to the quality of the writing in the book. By writing, I, of course, mean calligraphy. :)
Update 3: Moved the post forward a bit to later in the day.
Update 4 (July 9): There is an issue now. The image has disappeared. This was posted for the benefit of a professor at Harvard Business School. I am extremely busy right now. I will take a look at this issue later.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hindu Studies Post 6 - Hindus, no soup for you!

To give you just one more example of what the "End of History" theory implies for Hinduism, consider this next poem. This poem is also one that was featured on the Wondering Minstrels website. (Wondering Minstrels, FYI, is a collection of poems on the Internet and was run by two guys Martin DeMello and Abraham Thomas, both of whom I happen to know.) The particular poem I would like to draw your attention to goes as follows:


Then there was neither Aught nor Nought, no air nor sky beyond.
 What covered all? Where rested all? In watery gulf profound?
 Nor death was then, nor deathlessness, nor change of night and day.
 That One breathed calmly, self-sustained; nought else beyond it lay.


What is this really? It is, of course, a poem from the Rig Veda. It consists of a series of speculations about the origin of the Universe. The only trouble is that it is a poem written by a bunch of people.who had absolutely no idea how to even go about finding the answer to that question.

Here is the comment on the poem.


The Creation Hymn is better known through Prof Friedrich Max Mueller's translation of it ([broken link] but I chose this version because I thought Muir had done a commendable job of metrification.

The hymn itself is a favourite of mine, ever since I first heard the Hindi translation sung as the opening tune to Shyam Benegal's televised version of Jawahar Lal Nehru's Discovery of India. The climactic note of perplexity, voiced after all the esoteric speculations made on no less a subject than the origin of the Universe itself, has always fascinated me. To me, it conjures up the image of a sage looking defiantly into the skies, thumbing his nose up at the powers above and challenging them, with all their
omniscience and omnipotence, to unravel this, the most mystifying secret of existence.

Too, the hymn, and subsequent commentary, evoke the academic intensity and diversity of theological debates in Vedic and classical Hindu traditions. This presents a marked contrast to the ritualism and orthodoxy that suffuse the religion today.

What is notable in this comment to me is that the contrast between 'old' Hinduism and 'new' Hinduism is more or less taken from granted by the writer Sameer Siruguri (he is also somebody I happen to know). You don't find him trying to find answers to questions on the origin of the Universe, on Creation versus Evolution, et cetera, by carefully reading and re-reading this one little poem. Now, it is a different thing that he does not provide any evidence to show that the people who wrote this poem were themselves not as ritualistic and/or as orthodox as any Hindu you would find today (note the stuff underlined). The chances are that they probably were. In fact, they were probably quite ritualistic and quite orthodox precisely because most of them very likely did not know of any other way of living. Indeed, they may not have been open to ideas on other ways to live. It may be taken for granted that these guys did not have the sort of essential insights that modern anthropology provides. Assuming that the ancient Hindus were somehow masters of open inquiry is a mistake.

The main point of this post bears emphasis. Sameer does not try to read this poem to find answers to questions that have already been addressed by the efforts of physicists. The idea is obvious to him that finding the answer to what to believe about the origin of the universe, et cetera, is best addressed by going through books on physics and not books on Hinduism.

In 21st century Hinduism, the distinction between Faith-based answers and Reason-based answers does not really exist. And it is really as simple as that.

Update: moved the post forward to Sunday, July 7.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hindu Studies Post 5 - Elementary Hinduism, my dear Watson

I just posted this poem on my Facebook page, poem courtesy the Wondering Minstrels website.


The first day's sun
 the new appearance of being –
 Who are you?
 There was no answer.


As I was reading through the commentary for the poem, this little bit caught my eye.


For me, this poem catches the unanswered question of existence from the Hindu
point of view: "There was no answer." I find this profoundly sad. 


Here is a very short critique of this comment and, indeed, the post itself.

It must be noted that there is no "the Hindu point of view". This is a very common, even elementary, sort of error that people make with Hinduism. It is a mistake to think that somehow, -all- Hindus believe that the question of existence has no answer just because there is a reference in some religious text somewhere that there was a reference to a "no answer" at some point to some question. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the existence of this reference somehow makes it a part of "the Hindu point of view".

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Remembering objects lets computers learn like a child

Via InfoWorld:
Always seeing the world with fresh eyes can make it hard to find your way around. Giving computers the ability to recognise objects as they scan a new environment will let them navigate much more quickly and understand what they are seeing.

Renato Salas-Moreno at Imperial College London and colleagues have added object recognition to a computer vision technique called simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM). A SLAM-enabled computer has a camera to orient itself in new surroundings as it maps them.

SLAM builds up a picture of the world out of points and lines and contours. In an office, say, chairs and desks would emerge from the room like hills and valleys in a landscape. "The world is meaningless since every point in the map is the same," says Salas-Moreno. "It doesn't know if it is looking at a television or the wall."