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, December 8, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

INNOVATION: Researchers target new form of RAM from rare materials

Researchers from Victoria University, in New Zealand, are studying the application of a class of materials called rare earth nitrides (RENs) to create a new type of non-volatile RAM memory.

Dr Ben Ruck, Professor Joe Trodahl and Dr Franck Natali from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, are studying potential commercial applications of RENs, thin films grown under ultra-high vacuum which are both magnetic and semiconducting.

Two concepts already patented include developing the first magnetic memory storage devices based on RENs, called "magnetic tunnel junctions".

The issue with current forms of RAM is that it does not retain information when the host computer is turned off, says Ruck.

Friday, October 31, 2014

TECHNOLOGY: Shortage of cybersecurity professionals poses risk to national security

The nationwide shortage of cybersecurity professionals – particularly for positions within the federal government – creates risks for national and homeland security, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation.

Demand for trained cybersecurity professionals who work to protect organizations from cybercrime is high nationwide, but the shortage is particularly severe in the federal government, which does not offer salaries as high as the private sector.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On language

Language shapes the world we think about the world. But not in the way that you might think.

Take the word "Aidos'. As Sriram Padmanabhan points out, it is a word in Greek that has connotations of shame.

"The ancient Greeks apparently had a few words that are difficult to translate into English. One of them was "AIDOS". It means a kind of reverence or shame, the feeling that a prosperous man should have in the presence of the unfortunate - not compassion, but a sense that the difference between him and them is not fully deserved. " [@Sriram Padmanabhan]

Aidos is not shame per se. Precisely speaking, the word is difficult to translate into a "single word" in the English language.#NoSingleWordExistsButYesMultipleWordsCanCaptureTheIdea

If you ask me, I feel that that even though one may feel this emotion from time to time, it is not healthy, psychologically speaking, to harbor it. If you think about it, this emotion seems quite irrational. I would even say that is not how Man was intended to live his life- feeling shame for one's good fortune seems unnecessary. There is something to be said for American evangelical Christianity's attitude towards good fortune - if you have good fortune, just thank God and help other people. Why feel shame at all?

In a very powerful way, language shapes the way we view the world. If the word "Aidos" does not occur as a single word in one's language, say, English,one is much less likely to feel this emotion. After all, what better example of this is there than the sociological fact that there is very little class envy in America despite high levels of inequality. And this is partly because this is a sociological phenomenon in a country that speaks English. Which does not have a "single short word" for the word "Aidos". People only use words that are available to them. This is a form of judgement bias (the basis introduced by the "availability heuristic") similar to other judgement biases such as the loss aversion bias. Indeed, we tend to fall into certain set behavioral and thought patterns because of the availability heuristic introduced by language.

I think this "availability heuristic" is very powerful in the way it shapes we way we think about the world. There has been some recent research to suggest that language does influence the way we think about the world ( But more important than the question of whether we have different words for the color blue is the question of whether we use language to fall into certain set behavioral and thought patterns.

Friday, August 15, 2014

TECHNOLOGY: Campaigns emerge to attract more women to careers in IT

The gender divide within the technology industry has been obvious for years, but new programs and campaigns have emerged to encourage young girls and women to consider careers in IT.

While 95% of young girls say they like -- or even love -- technology, only 9% say they're definitely interested in pursuing an IT career.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

TECHNOLOGY: Hackers reverse-engineer NASA's leaked bugging device

From the New Scientist:
RADIO hackers have reverse-engineered some of the wireless spying gadgets used by the US National Security Agency. Using documents leaked by Edward Snowden, researchers have built simple but effective tools that can be attached to parts of a computer to gather private information in a host of intrusive ways.

The NSA's Advanced Network Technology catalogue was part of the avalanche of classified documents leaked by Snowden, a former agency contractor. The catalogue lists and pictures devices that agents can use to spy on a target's computer or phone. The technologies include fake base stations for hijacking and monitoring cellphone calls and radio-equipped USB sticks that transmit a computer's contents.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Office hours - and learning Malayalam in 21 days

Office hours for next month are scheduled for Monday, August 4th.

I have been on a "Learn Malayalam" project this summer. I set myself a target of learning enough Malayalam within a 21 day period. It has been working quite well. I am almost done, and have reached the desired level of fluency.

This three week period happens to coincide with the World Cup. Which was nice. Because I could cheer for Team USA in malayALam. The best thing about America is that it is a country that celebrates diversity. It is quite awesome that you can cheer for Team USA in whatever language you want.

And, while on the topic of learning Malayalam, I wanted to send out a quick shout out to Gita Natarajan Shankar, Aruna Govind and Rita Maheshan for offering time to talk to me in malayALam, and/or offering resources. This is exactly the type of "constructive cooperation" I need. I am quite sure that it is this sort of "constructive cooperation" and support that is also responsible for the success of Indian-Americans in Spelling Bees - it is important to identify for other people what they need, when they need it and given them the right support at the right time.

And below is my thank you note on Facebook to my Facebook friends.

I hope to have brought some Germany-like efficiency to my Malayaalam learning. I truly believe that it is possible to learn languages quite quickly (And this has important implications for Reading/Writing [well, I think they are important] and for improving literacy levels in the world too, but that is a different matter. I am close to the end of the scheduled 21 day period. Still have a few more days to go, but I think I have reached the desired level of fluency now. It should be smooth sailing from here on. It has been fun cheering with you all. Thanks, Avinash Kishore Shahi Ujjwal Sinha Partha Basu Stan Veuger Anusha Iyer Sundar Pichai Sunil Ravipati Arnab Pal Shalin Patel Raghav Krishnapriyan Nirupama Bulusu Pradeep Madhavan Louis Osofsky. And for the finals, best of luck, Deutschland! Viel Glück!

Monday, June 30, 2014

INNOVATION: Information School team app for West African fishermen snags sustainable fishing prize

From UC Berkeley:
When they woke at the base of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 30-foot-high kelp forest Saturday morning — under the watchful gaze of leopard sharks, red octopuses and dozens of other marine species — four students and alums at UC Berkeley’s School of Information knew they faced no ordinary programming challenge.

The team spent the weekend participating in a nationwide Fishackathon, a project supporting sustainable fishing practices around the world. The team’s project first was judged the best at the Monterey Bay Aquarium site, and then faced finalists from four other hackathon sites across the country. After Tuesday’s final presentations, the I School team was awarded the hackathon grand prize.

I School student Dan Tsai and 2014 graduates Isha Dandavate, Jenton Lee and Kate Rushton joined dozens of other programmers, students and information professionals from Silicon Valley and across Northern California at the aquarium the weekend of June 13-14 for two straight days and nights of design and development. The aquarium had teams of oceanographers and fishing researchers available as resources and consultants for the contestants, to provide information they needed to guide their designs.

Response to Tyler Cowen : why Indian restaurants are better than Pakistani restaurants

Bang in the middle of World Cup season when international rivalries are prominently on display (and what could be more important than watching Deutschland play ("JA, JA, DEUTSCHLAAAAAAAND!!")) comes this short post furthering the point I made on why Indian restaurants in the United States are better than Pakistani restaurants. Tyler Cowen has argued otherwise in his book. He wrote that Pakistani restaurants are better than Indian restaurants in the United States. But when I asked him for amplification, he did say that... well, read on to find that bit out. But first, the question: is Tyler's observation really true? Has Tyler Cowen scored one for Pakistan?

At first blush: perhaps, in a manner of speaking, but then again, maybe not. Indian restaurants do tend to cater to the American palate more often than Pakistani restaurants. However, it must be first noted that this is not universally true. It must also be noted that there are reasons to believe that - when the full 90 minutes are done and the final whistle has been blown - Indian restaurants come out - overall - ahead of Pakistani restaurants. That is my considered opinion on this matter any way.

Why? Two reasons, both observations on the restaurant market in the United States. The first thing I would like to note is that where this is greater competition among Indian restaurants, and where there is a greater concentration of Indians, the quality of Indian restaurant food is excellent. This includes such areas as the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. Competition brings quality. This is the point that Prof. Cowen clarified via email in his reply to me. He agreed that the quality of food in these areas is outstanding - and he attributes it to competition as well.

The second thing I would like to note is that Indian restaurants are like American business schools in an important way - they have made various choices that may be treated as "strategic positions". American business schools have, of course, done exactly this - Duke positions itself as a team-based school ("Duke grads are great TEAM PLAYERS!"), Wharton positions itself as a great school for people interested in Finance ("Finance? Come to Wharton!) and HBS positions its students for leadership roles ("HBS- more CEOs than any other business school"). Indian restaurants have done the same thing. They have positioned themselves as vegetarian or vegan, as buffet-based or menu-based. Now, vegetarianism happens to an extremely good lifestyle choice and, therefore, the Quality of a regional cuisine is a function of whether it offers good choices for vegetarians. In this regard, Indian restaurants in the United States are superior to virtually every other regional cuisine (except perhaps Thai).

And so, in the context of great international rivalries, it must be noted that Pakistani are certainly in contention in this game. However, there are few to zero Pakistani restaurants that are exclusively vegetarian - and this is important because the wafting flavors of kebabs and koftas are enough to tempt even the most die-hard dieter. Furthermore, Indian cuisine is a strict superset of Pakistani cuisine and so there is little to support the contention that it has anything to do with Indian food per se.

I note Tyler Cowen's point that Indian restaurants have added more sugar to some of their dishes, have diluted the flavors of some of their soups, et cetera, all of which add up to much less flavor for the gourmet. (This is a valid and very important point - and it is especially true in places where there is less competition.) But being a bit of a gourmet myself, I would argue that you can quite easily satisfy your appetite for excellent food at Indian restaurants by simply downloading the Yelp app for the iPhone or Android and finding out what dishes at a particular restaurant are bad.

It may then be concluded that Tyler Cowen's goal must, in fact, be challenged. As an unbiased referee, I am going to be unable to award this point to him. If anything, given that Indian cuisine is a strict superset of Pakistani, it is clear that you are better off going to an Indian restaurant, particularly one that supports your dietary choices- whether low carb or low fat, whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

And now, I must go back to Germany versus Algeria.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Office hours

The office hours for June were on June 2. The next office hours are on July 7 and August 4 between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. Office hours are on the first Monday of every month between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. PST.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ECONOMICS: Indian-Americans and the Spelling Bee

Further thoughts on the success of Indian-Americans in the Spelling Bee below. References to be added later.

Imagine a perfect world of education. Imagine Neverland. It is a world in which all children get access to high quality education. All teachers in all schools are committed and devoted.All teachers in third grade teach children about Matisse, evolution and early American history [1]. The children are all enthusiastic. The parents are involved in their children's school work. Together, they work on homeworks and projects. And the children all learn. The joy of learning pervades the household. The joy is palpable. The household is thriving.

Now let us consider a different setting. We have a different school district. In this school district, the teachers are not all perfect- some are good, some are bad. The students' ability, drive and motivation also lie across a range. Some students are thriving. But some are not.

Let us now zoom in on one classroom. This classroom is in an inner city. In this classroom, a teacher is struggling with a difficult question. She quit her job in the corporate world to take up this job as a teAcher. But the children come from troubled homes. They are unable to focus. They don't even complete the most simple homework problems. The teacher recently received a death threat. She is considering quitting. This school is obviously not thriving.

Consider the parent of a child in this classroom. The parent knows that her third grade child is having difficulty learning about Matisse. (An obscure/hard-to-internalize topic for an eight year old if ever there was one.) But the fact of the matter is that she knows that her child is smart. Her son is able to learn about Matisse just fine when her son is taken through the material carefully by her. But in the classroom, the child faces a range of pressures. It is not so much that the child is unable to learn. The child is unable to "perform". (Maybe the question we should ask is: why should a third grade child be expected to "perform" any way?) It all seems quite unfair. One could forgive the parent's belief, now firmly established, that it is government ultimately that has failed her.

Now, consider yet another classroom in yet another school. This is a middle income families' school. The parents of the children in this school are educated. Most children take it easy. That is, after all, what childhood is all about. but a few are highly driven to succeed. These children are encouraged by their parents to do excel.

As an organization behaviorist, I am always in search of excellence. What is the root cause of motivation[3]? What condition or conditions in the environment[4] infuses some people with drive and energy? Why do other individuals under the same conditions and/or environment seem listless and even utterly bored? How is it that, despite all odds, individuals in even relatively average environments are driven to excel?

The answer must lie in something that must ultimately come down to the individual. Much has been said about the poor quality of educational achievement in America. Is this really true? Steven Sailer has argued that the educational outcomes of Scandinavian-Americans actually closely resembles the educational outcomes of the much admired Scandinavians. I don't wish to cite his opinions on minorities not because his analysis is not "accurate". It is, in some sense. However, it is also important to note that individuals in this setting, and we ARE talking about children here, have little control of their destiny. As Janes March once said, "three decisions that individuals take early in their lives has a huge impact on their future - when they are born, where they are born and who they are born to". One can hardly blame the children. However, it is also important to keep in mind that just because a few children are doing poorly, it does not mean that the whole system is rotten. It simply means that that there may be pockets of excellence even in seas of mediocrity (not that the American educational system is like that). (Please understand that I am specifically not blaming anyone. I refuse to say that African-American children are failing because it is their fault or because there is something in their culture. In fact, I highly doubt that is the case and refuse to believe that the vast majority of children, whether black or white, are anything other than inherently good ). There is goodness and excellence around us. A lot of people seem to miss this completely and fail to see the wood for the trees. And I have generally seen Republicans point out the way to excellence and achievement far more consistently than the Democrats. Whether you believe that or not, you would do well to pay heed to the Republicans whether you agree with them or not. As I have heard many a conservative say- the best allies of the conservatives are ... the facts. The truth is that there is much that is excellent in the American educational system. And it is this excellence that we must seek to identify. Wherever it may lie.

Now, here is a question to think about. Which setting does the real world resemble? Obviously, the second one. But the thing to note is that despite the odds, -some- children are succeeding. So ask not what the country is doing for you. Don't blame the educational systems. Don't be part of the problem. Ask what you can do for your country. Find out how you can get behind what is working. And be part of the solution.

It is fair to ask if the parent can, in fact, know anything about what her children will need to do in order to learn. Has this model of children learning via parentally involved instruction actually worked anywhere? As a matter of fact, yes. This model has worked extremely well in many states. In Texas, I have personally come to know about schools where the children are generally interested and motivated. And they do learn. The home schooling movement is yet another instance of the 'perfect setting' exemplar. When done correctly, children learn rapidly. There was even one home schooled child who went on to attend Harvard. There is ultimately no substitute for motivation and hard work.

The final takeaway is simple- The American educational system may not be perfect but it can be made to work for you. Focus helps. Hard work pays. Success is possible. This is (approximately, to the first degree of approximation) the argument Malcolm Gladwell makes in "Outliers" on the schooling system. (By the way, he is quite mistaken about the significance of the Chinese numbering system in terms of its effects on the ability for young children to learn.)

To understand why Americans feel that their educational system is failing them, it is insufficient to merely look at bad organizations and play the game of blame. One must also look at the average organization. We must ask what makes individuals in even average organizations "wriggle out" and, against the odds, succeed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

ECONOMICS: Business, Competition and Corruption - Thoughts on Becker's post

Gary Becker has died. In his honor, I plan to make a follow up post to the following comment I posted to the Becker-Posner blog.


In my view, corruption is primarily a governance issue and there is only so much economists are able to add to the picture.

As one example, Sendhil Mullainathan has attempted to establish empirically whether corruption is something that has negative social externalities at all - Sam Huntington's point that bribery is "speed money" (which Mullainathan has suggested as a hypothesis) and so actually makes things better since things get done versus the counter-hypothesis that bribery simply makes things worse since it adds friction.

So many countries have been seen to regress badly in the presence of corruption, but if you look at countries known to have high degrees of corruption (ranging from Mexico to India), there is only so much economists can bring to bear - in terms of analysis - on this issue. It is primarily a governance problem.

And this brings me to a point I have made several times in the past. Underdeveloped countries are not just under-developed. They are under-managed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

ECONOMICS: Indian-Americans and Spelling Bees

So. It looks like the winners of the National Spelling Bee competition were again Indian-American kids. Further comments to follow.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

INNOVATION: Augmented reality lifts awareness of nature preservation

Imagine strolling along a wildlife refuge trail and finding a marker with a symbol of a bison. Pull out your smartphone or iPad and hold it up to the picture. Now look at the screen and see a 3-D bison roam across the landscape.

Through the magic of digital technology, visitors to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (RMA) could click an app and enjoy sightings of rare or endangered animals - albeit virtual ones - in a pristine setting. Augmented reality, as it's known, is gaining popularity as a way to enhance natural excursions - dinosaurs popping up in a forest, for example - or to teach engine repair, surgical procedures and other technical lessons.

Monday, May 12, 2014

ECONOMICS: Why are Indian restaurants in the United States better than Pakistani restaurants?

I had a short email exchange last week with the eminent economist Tyler Cowen. According to Prof. Cowen, Pakistani restaurants in the United States are better than Indian restaurants. He says as much in his book "An Economist Gets Lunch". Which, by the way, made for a very interesting read - the parts that I read, at least [1].
His goal now is to provide a guide to dining well anywhere, while minimizing risk of the Cowen nightmare, a meal that is an expensive bore. His commandments fall into two categories. The first is variations on a general mantra derived from the law of supply and demand. Eat, he urges, where "the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative, and the demanders are informed." An ideal restaurant would be a sushi bar near Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where fresh fish and discerning diners make selling bad sushi unviable as a business. The height of folly, perhaps, would be my own gastroenterologically fateful decision to visit what was then the only sushi restaurant in Villahermosa, Mexico (an unforced error, I must admit). 
The second category is classic Cowen advice—heterodox, clever and preposterously, sometimes uselessly, specific. He advises, for example, looking for Thai restaurants attached to motels (more likely to be family-run and not desperate to make rent). For authenticity, he awards points to Pakistani restaurants that feature pictures of Mecca, since they're more likely to cater to Pakistani clientele. ("The more aggressively religious the décor, the better it will be for the food.") Find restaurants where diners are "screaming at each other" or "pursuing blood feuds," he says—indications that people feel comfortable there and return frequently with their familiars. 
As to whether Indian restaurants are better than Pakistani restaurants, I beg to differ with Prof. Cowen. I think Indian restaurants in the United States are better. 

My thoughts on why this is so and what the underlying factors might be to follow. In the meantime, follow the link here to access my post on Quora which asks the same question of a wider audience.

[1] Update of May 31, 2014: The intention of that statement was just to clarify that I haven't read the whole book. I have been dipping into a bit here and a bit there of Tyler Cowen's book at the local library because I have been too busy the past few weeks to actually read it in full. Anyway, it looks like a very interesting read, but I wouldn't want Indian readers to get too disappointed with this 'conclusion' on Indian restaurants. I brought up the point with him via email that Indian restaurants in the Bay Area are actually really quite good. Tyler Cower concurred in his email reply. There is enough of a market size in the Bay Area that "authenticity" in terms of Indian cooking preparation techniques is incentivized.

[2] Update of June 4, 2014: The word 'conclusion' is interesting in this context in that there is a flavor of 'concluding' in the word as in ending, as well as a flavor of 'concluding' as in arriving at a final result. Much of economic analysis is not so much about producing a final result as much as about pointing a way forward and talking about "the 80% case" compactly (and, of course, this assumes the 80-20 rule which can, in itself, be an assumption). This is one of the reasons I love to point out Prof. Cowen's ideas even when I have certain disagreements with them because they do point to a way forward. Onward!

Friday, May 9, 2014

MISCELLANEOUS: Re: Your critique of my poems, saikus and a critique of Thomas Piketty

My email to Rakesh Bhandari this morning.


Hi Rakesh,

I want to respond more fully to your mini-poem critiquing/criticizing my poetry.

First, my poetry is akin to the songs of struggle that are found in social movements across the world. Nobody parses the songs sung by the dispossessed Narmada Valley people to see if it meets the standards of the poetry sections of "The American Reader" or the New York Times. I don't know if you know this but the book "The Essence of Leadership"  (reviewed very positively by Stanford's founding father of OB, James March) which I contributed to, develops leadership ideas based on readings from literature.

Second, I have been developing a new type of poetry that I like to call "saiku". It stands for "satirical haiku". Saiku captures in three or four lines the essence of a criticism/critique. I don't know if you were basing your critique/criticism on said poems. They are all over the South Asian Journalists Association's website.

Third, these saikus are enormously effective in that they capture a lot of wisdom in three lines (or less). I could convey my critique of Thomas Piketty (he is the latest fad these days, isn't he?) in three lines. In fact, your own critique of my poetic efforts is an instance of the effectiveness of this compressed criticism technique. It is devastatingly effective at times.

Best wishes,


"Capital in the 21st Century"
Ho hum, what shall we say about this latest fad?
      The emphasis on inequality is misplaced - 
capital has raised more people out of poverty in India and China 
in the last 35 years 
than in the previous 70. 
      The idea of a world tax is unworkable -
The problems facing each country/region have always been particular to that country/region.
They may have roots in particular sectors
e.g. financial sector (Japan), the automobile sector (Detroit),
et cetera.
So only a sectoral analysis would provide any means of a solution.
      What could be done? -
certainly, not a world tax.
Other ideas and proposals must first be explored
      (Read- would each one of us say- those would be my own ideas? :) Say, Digital Green for me? :))
Sorry, "Occupy" people.
has a counterpart.
In an earlier era,
it was
Das Kapital.

Update (11:53 a.m.): To be perfectly clear, what I am saying is not that Thomas Piketty is wrong to focus on inequality (please be careful when I use poetry - I don't intend for it to be read literally). Piketty is good in his descriptive analysis from what I have read so far. Also, from what I understand, his empirical work is very sound and quite good. It is not his descriptive analysis that I fault but rather his prescriptive analysis.

First, the world tax concept proposed by Piketty is not a workable one. I don't see how the mandate for something like that could be obtained. Second, we must keep inequality in perspective. The fact is that the poor in America live much better lives than even the upper class did 200 years ago. They typically own one or two cars, have at least one TV, possess at least one cellphone, and live in a reasonably sized home. In fact, the house of the average poor person in America is larger than the house of the average European. This is not to say that being poor in America is easy. It is just to say that we must keep things in perspective given the economic history of the United States over the past 200 years. Third, taxes are opposed by a significant cross section of American society - even taxes for other Americans. This is a matter of conflicting economic viewpoints or philosophies. If your viewpoint is that the government's role is to provide equal opportunity for all, then you would come to one conclusion regarding the proposals in the book. If you think - as Obama and most liberals do - that the government is within its rights to tax more (or, as some would put it, to engage in 'forced redistribution of wealth' or, again to put it less gently, to seize even more wealth than it already does), then you would come to a very different conclusion regarding the prescriptive proposals in the book. Given what we know about the distribution of political opinion within America, it is highly unlikely that many will take kindly to the concept of a world tax - if at all, they would be for more tax revenues to help other Americans. The fact that so many are opposed to taxes (one of the many of the ideas expounded in the book) simply indicates their political viewpoints on forced wealth redistribution. No matter how you phrase it, everybody knows that means. Nobody is getting fooled.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

INNOVATION: Crowdsourced RNA Designs Outperform Computer Algorithms, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford Researchers Report

An enthusiastic group of non-experts, working through an online interface and receiving feedback from lab experiments, has produced designs for RNA molecules that are consistently more successful than those generated by the best computerized design algorithms, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University report.

Moreover, the researchers gathered some of the best design rules and practices generated by players of the online EteRNA design challenge and, using machine learning principles, generated their own automated design algorithm, EteRNABot, which also bested prior design algorithms. Though this improved computer design tool is faster than humans, the designs it generates still don't match the quality of those of the online community, which now has more than 130,000 members.

The research will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


For those new to Bitcoin, here is a FAQ on Bitcoins. It answers some of the basic questions that people have on Bitcoins.



What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a consensus network that enables a new payment system and a completely digital money. It is the first decentralized peer-to-peer payment network that is powered by its users with no central authority or middlemen. From a user perspective, Bitcoin is pretty much like cash for the Internet. Bitcoin can also be seen as the most prominenttriple entry bookkeeping system in existence.

Who created Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the first implementation of a concept called "crypto-currency", which was first described in 1998 by Wei Dai on the cypherpunks mailing list, suggesting the idea of a new form of money that uses cryptography to control its creation and transactions, rather than a central authority. The first Bitcoin specification and proof of concept was published in 2009 in a cryptography mailing list by Satoshi Nakamoto. Satoshi left the project in late 2010 without revealing much about himself. The community has since grown exponentially with many developers working on Bitcoin.
Satoshi's anonymity often raised unjustified concerns, many of which are linked to misunderstanding of the open-source nature of Bitcoin. The Bitcoin protocol and software are published openly and any developer around the world can review the code or make their own modified version of the Bitcoin software. Just like current developers, Satoshi's influence was limited to the changes he made being adopted by others and therefore he did not control Bitcoin. As such, the identity of Bitcoin's inventor is probably as relevant today as the identity of the person who invented paper.

Who controls the Bitcoin network?

Nobody owns the Bitcoin network much like no one owns the technology behind email. Bitcoin is controlled by all Bitcoin users around the world. While developers are improving the software, they can't force a change in the Bitcoin protocol because all users are free to choose what software and version they use. In order to stay compatible with each other, all users need to use software complying with the same rules. Bitcoin can only work correctly with a complete consensus among all users. Therefore, all users and developers have a strong incentive to protect this consensus.

How does Bitcoin work?

From a user perspective, Bitcoin is nothing more than a mobile app or computer program that provides a personal Bitcoin wallet and allows a user to send and receive bitcoins with them. This is how Bitcoin works for most users.
Behind the scenes, the Bitcoin network is sharing a public ledger called the "block chain". This ledger contains every transaction ever processed, allowing a user's computer to verify the validity of each transaction. The authenticity of each transaction is protected by digital signatures corresponding to the sending addresses, allowing all users to have full control over sending bitcoins from their own Bitcoin addresses. In addition, anyone can process transactions using the computing power of specialized hardware and earn a reward in bitcoins for this service. This is often called "mining". To learn more about Bitcoin, you can consult the dedicated page and the original paper.

Is Bitcoin really used by people?

Yes. There is a growing number of businesses and individuals using Bitcoin. This includes brick and mortar businesses like restaurants, apartments, law firms, and popular online services such as Namecheap, WordPress, Reddit and Flattr. While Bitcoin remains a relatively new phenomenon, it is growing fast. At the end of August 2013, the value of all bitcoins in circulation exceeded US$ 1.5 billion with millions of dollars worth of bitcoins exchanged daily.


TECHNOLOGY: We the Internet: Bitcoin developers' idea for Bitcloud

A developer group is seeding a project that would behave as a decentralized Internet, in a departure from the present model. Posting their intentions recently on Reddit, they said "We will have to start by decentralizing the current Internet, and then we can create a new Internet to replace it." Called Bitcloud, they propose a peer to peer system for sharing bandwidth. Individual users would complete computing tasks such as routing, storing, or computing in exchange for cash. As the BBC explained, "Just as Bitcoin miners provide computing power and are rewarded for solving complex mathematical equations with the virtual currency, so individual net users would be rewarded based on how much bandwidth they contrib ute to the Bitcloud network."

Elaborating on Reddit about this cash model, the developers said this about payments: "One of the many problems of certain free and open source projects in the past has been the lack of a profit incentive. With Bitcloud, nodes on a mesh network can be rewarded financially for routing traffic in a brand new mesh network. This removes the need for Internet Service Providers."

Monday, March 31, 2014

INNOVATION: The 'holodeck'

Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are playing poker together. No, this isn’t a bad physics joke.  
It’s a scene from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” It takes place in a holodeck, a simulated-reality room in the fictional Star Trek universe. The three scientists — or at least computer-generated versions of them — have been transported to the 2300s to play cards with Lt. Cmdr. Data. 
“I don’t even know why I’m here in the first place,” Newton says. 
While the show is set in the future, some scientists and researchers say we could have something like holodecks by 2024. If you have enough money, you could even buy one today, though it would be crude compared to the holodecks on Star Trek.

Friday, February 14, 2014

TECHNOLOGY: sees new market in Bitcoins

The $1 billion company is tapping into a new market of buyers who use the online currency, and other major retailers will lose market share if they don't follow suit and accept Bitcoins, Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne said.

"I've been hearing from people all over the world—cult followers of Bitcoin—who say they are going to shift all of their shopping to," Byrne told CBS affiliate KUTV in Salt Lake City.

Bitcoin users buy digital money and load it onto a virtual wallet. They can buy things online without having to enter their credit-card information.

Unlike government-issued money, the value of Bitcoin fluctuates rapidly. To protect itself, Overstock uses a Bitcoin broker that immediately transfers the digital coin into dollars.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

ECONOMICS: Is economics a science?

My email to Raj Chetty earlier today.

Dear Prof. Chetty: 
         <stuff deleted> 
[The] claim that "economics is a science" is not really a valid one or even a correct one. It is more than a semantic difference regarding the word 'science'. The fact that is that one can postulate multiple versions of the future (universes U1, U2, ..., Un out of which universe U1 is the one predicted by any particular economic theory T1) in which the predictions of T1 hold only in U1 but not in U2, ..., Un. The difference between the sciences (say, physics) and economics is that the probability of -only- U1 and -not- U2, ..., Un is very high in the case of physics and not -provably- as high in economics. 
Furthermore, economics does not, in almost any scenario worth thinking about, operate in a 'closed system' as it were. 'Closed systems' experiments are possible in certain science experiments. 
With reference to your article: the 10-week extension in welfare payments result that you cite cannot be viewed as being part of a 'closed system'.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

MISCELLANEOUS: Eleven languages

The BBC is running a story on an Oxford undergraduate who knows 11 languages.
Twenty-year-old Alex Rawlings has won a national competition to find the UK's most multi-lingual student. 
The Oxford University undergraduate can currently speak 11 languages - English, Greek, German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, Hebrew, Catalan and Italian. 
Very impressive.

One comment (based on a discussion on Arun Viswanath's Facebook page)- it seems that certain aspects of languages create the most 'grunt work'.

I am thinking, in particular, of gendered nouns here. Every time you have to add a language like French and Hindi to your repertoire, it becomes a time consuming task to learn and keep track of all the new nouns and their associated genders. (And this is one of those things that is important to know well; otherwise, people will be tipped off as you use more and more nouns with incorrect gender). The term 'combinatorial explosion' came to mind, but it is actually not that. The extra data is only O(n) where n is the number of languages. At any rate, the volume of the data that needs to be learned as you add each additional language becomes so large that, at some point, it just becomes progressively more time consuming and ultimately impractical to remember and refresh one's knowledge of it all.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TECHNOLOGY: San Jose State U. and Udacity Resume Online-Learning Trials

Via the Chronicle of Higher Education:

After putting its high-profile online-learning experiment on hold for the fall semester, San Jose State University said on Tuesday that it would resume offering three online courses next spring in conjunction with Udacity, one of the three big providers of massive open online courses. 
The courses—”Elementary Statistics,” “Introduction to Programming,” and “General Psychology”—are among five with which the university has tested whether teaching methods and technology that Udacity developed for MOOCs could be useful in more-conventional courses offered for university credit. Two mathematics courses that were offered last spring are not being reprised. 
The three courses will be offered for credit to strictly limited numbers of San Jose State students and others in the California State University system, the university said. The courses will also be offered to all comers through Udacity’s website, but completing the courses will earn those students only Udacity certificates.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

About me

Below is my biographical information. Linked here is a list of publications.


Anand Manikutty is an engineer, inventor and entrepreneur in the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States. He is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has worked in technology and software companies for over 10 years in the United States, and conducted research in the industry and in academia in computer science and technology (operating systems, real-time systems, databases and XML) and business and management. 

He received his Bachelor of Technology in computer science and engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras where he was awarded the Governor's Gold Medal for 1997. He earned his Master of Science in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998. He has also pursued research at Harvard Business School.
In his research at IIT Madras, he used computational techniques to solve operations research problems in real-time systems. As part of a research team, he investigated the use of heuristics to solve algorithmic problems using various mathematical and computational techniques. In subsequent research, he has published papers in journals, conferences and workshops in the areas of internet technology, database technology and systems software. As part of the research and development team at Oracle, Anand investigated problems at the intersection of XML, the markup language that is a generalized version of the HTML used in web pages, and advanced database systems. He has co-authored more than 10 papers and articles in computer science academic journals and conference proceedings. As an employee of Oracle Corporation, he is an inventor on over 17 patents filed in the areas of XML and database systems.

During his time at Harvard Business School, he helped form the non-profit organization Digital Green. Digital Green has achieved economic impact in some of the most economically deprived areas of the world. The project covers over 25,000 farmers over 4 states in India, and is projected to cover 100,000 farmers by 2015. It is the recipient of a generous grant (gratefully acknowledged!) from the Gates Foundation. Digital Green was the recipient of the Stockholm Challenge Award in 2008. In addition to Digital Green and Oracle, he has also been employed as a software design engineer at Microsoft from early 1999 to 2000, as an engineering intern in the Oracle Summer Invitational Program in the summer of 1998, and as a consultant for software companies in the Bay Area.

He recently contributed to a book on organizations and leadership "The Essence of Leadership". The book was published by Macmillan India in 2009. The book has been received well by Stanford’s James March, whose collaborative work with Prof. Herbert Simon on organizations, decision-making and leadership led to the latter winning the Nobel Prize, and USC’s Warren Bennis, University Professor and Founding Chairman of the Leadership Institute at USC. He is currently assisting with a textbook on Strategic Management.

He has been a blogger at the award-winning blog Zoo Station ( He now maintains a blog called "Ask the Delphic Oracle" ( for his Times of India Group column of the same name. He is also a trivia enthusiast having conducted several quizzes in India. He has won several notable quizzes including the Lone Wolf Quiz (solo quiz) and the Odyssey Quiz (team quiz) in Chennai, India.

His Indiatimes columns may be viewed here :

Representative Publications
  • Muralidhar Krishnaprasad, Zhen Hua Liu, Anand Manikutty, James Warner and Vikas Arora, "Towards an Industrial Strength SQL/XML Infrastructure",Proceedings of the International Conference of Data Engineering (ICDE 2005).
  • Muralidhar Krishnaprasad, Zhen Hua Liu, Anand Manikutty, James W. Warner, Vikas Arora, Susan Kotsovolos, "Query Rewrite for XML in Oracle XML DB",Proceedings of the Conference on Very Large Data Bases (VLDB 2004).
  • Manimaran Govindarasu, Shashidhar Merugu, Anand Manikutty, and C. Siva Ram Murthy, "Integrated scheduling of tasks and messages in distributed real-time systems", Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing Practices (JPDC 1998).
  • Govindarasu Manimaran, Anand Manikutty, C. Siva Ram Murthy: DHARMA: A tool for evaluating dynamic scheduling algorithms for real-time multiprocessor systems. Journal of Systems and Software 50(2): 131-149 (2000)
  • G. Manimaran, Shashidhar Merugu, Anand Manikutty, C. Siva Ram Murthy: Integrated Scheduling of Tasks and Messages in Distributed Real-Time Systems. Scalable Computing: Practice and Experience 1(2) (1998)
  • Won the Best Solution Paper Award, for the paper "DREAD: Distributed REal-time Air Defense System '"(co-authored with Anand Manikutty, Shashidhar Merugu, and C. Siva Ram Murthy) for challenge problem problem on "Distributed Real-time Air Defense System," 5th IEEE Intl. Workshop on Parallel and Distributed Real-time Systems (WPDRTS), Geneva, Switzerland, Apr. 1-3, 1997.

A less technical bio is available here in the "About Us" section of the Ask the Delphic Oracle blog : Favorite papers - in purple.