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".

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Facebook and Free Basics: let us harness the Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds is a powerful thing. But in the case of the latest marketing campaign launched by Facebook around Free Basics, it is not quite clear that the wisdom of crowds is coming to the fore. First, some background on the Wisdom of Crowds.
In 1785, a French mathematician named Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat (known as Marquis de Condorcet) used statistics to champion democracy. 
Democracies are based on the collective decisions of large groups of people. But citizens aren’t experts on every topic, and so they may be prone to errors in the choices they make. And yet, Condorcet argued, it’s possible for a group of error-prone decision-makers to be surprisingly good at picking the best choice. 
Condorcet’s logic was simple. Assume you have a group of people each independently making a choice about a question. Assume that they have a chance of making the wrong choice–but that their choices are better than random. If the decision they’re trying to make is either thumbs up or thumbs down, for example, their chance of picking the right answer only needs to be greater than 50 percent. The odds that a majority of them will pick the right answer is greater than the odds that any one of them will pick it on their own. What’s more, Condorcet argued that the group’s performance gets even better as its size goes up. 
Condorcet’s argument is the foundation of what’s now commonly called the “wisdom of crowds.” Individuals who have imperfect understanding of a situation can band together to become good at collective decision-making. 
There are some famous stories that illustrate the wisdom of crowds. Just over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton asked 787 people to guess the weight of an ox. None of them got the right answer, but, pooled together, their collective guess was almost perfect. In his book, The Wisdom of the Crowds, James Surowieckiwrites about the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Contestants could get help answering questions either from an individual friend whom they considered an expert, or from a poll of the audience. The majority of the audience picked the right answer 91 percent of the time, while individual friends only did so 65 percent of the time. 
Many scientists have used Condorcet’s idea (known as the jury theorem) as a launching pad for exploring collective decision-making. They’ve expanded the basic theory to include more features of crowds–such as the way information can move through them. They’ve tested out versions of the jury theorem on real groups of humans and animals. And their research has shown that crowds really can be wise. People can indeed make better decisions in groups than on their own. And while animals may not be able to pick presidents, they can also make good decisions in groups. It may be hard for an individual fish to recognize a predator in a murky ocean and escape in time. But a school of fish can pool its uncertain information to avoid enemies.

Case in point: Facebook published some rebuttals to an article by Mahesh Murthy, an Indian VC, and it turned out that there were problems with Facebook's claims and numbers. The Wisdom of Crowds was in full evidence here. Many people managed to spot the problems with Facebook's advertised numbers. (The only notable thing about one of the numbers, 3.2 million petitioners, was how heavily self-selected it turned out to be). Here is an extract from Facebook's rebuttal.

FACEBOOK’S ADVERTISEMENT CLAIM: In the past several days, 3.2 million people have petitioned the TRAI in support of Free Basics 

 MAHESH WRITES: Let’s again say it for what it is: 3.2 million people out of Facebook’s base of 130 million people who were repeatedly shown a misleading petition by Facebook on top of their pages clicked yes and submit, without being told both sides of the story, and thinking they were doing something for a noble cause, and not to further Facebook’s business strategy. A large number of them, shocked at realizing what they were conned into doing have since said no.

 FACEBOOK SAYS: This is false. Only a small fraction of our 130 million users were notified. We largely provided the notice to people who had previously indicated their support of Free Basics months ago and then notified their friends only if the person showed support once again. And the response rates of support are high compared to average campaigns. There is no evidence that “a large number” of them feel conned. Note: Claims on Twitter about false sends or notifications are disproved by the code – which we will happily supply to TRAI. Our program is benefiting people and we will continue to advocate for its benefits, much like its critics are using their communication channels to make their opinions known.

 MAHESH’S RESPONSE: Thank you for confirming that your Facebook vote-getting effort wasn’t representative, but aimed as you say at only that “small fraction” of your users who had already showed support for In other words, you’d stacked the deck. So why wouldn’t you say this earlier, and why brandish a number like 3.2 million about that you yourself admit is heavily selection-biased and not representative at all?

The Wisdom of Crowds only operates when people have access to all the information. Facebook should be made to run a proper, scientifically accurate campaign on all their claims. They definitely have enough social scientists to be able to do this. Indeed, if they have the resources to marshal 3.2 million people to petition, as they claim, in what turned out to be a scientifically wildly inaccurate campaign, surely, they can marshal the resources for a smaller scientifically accurate campaign. And why not call out the data collection as such (Sample blurbs to accompany their advertised data: "These are not scientifically accurate data" and "This is not a sample of people without selection bias and, therefore, the opinions of the people cannot be considered representative")?

Here are some further thoughts fro me - based on a Facebook discussion with some friends.
In this debate, there are three constituencies/interest groups here:

(1) Facebook (which incl. the RComm-Facebook JV): they want to offer "so called free internet". In return, they hope to monetise revenue streams arising out of people converting. Their calling the fact that people are converting to a paid Internet a case of "improvement" does not per se make much sense. This is partly because Facebook does not pay taxes in India. This is also partly because people might be paying for a product and not realizing that there may be adverse long-term consequences from the product. (W.r.t FB not paying taxes- it sounds much more like revenues -leaving- the country, and so FB's case would be far more convincing if they agreed to start paying taxes in India and hosted their servers there.) 
(2) VCs/Net Neutrality activists/developers/et cetera: this consituency wants a "net neutral" solution. Mahesh Murthy has argued their case. 
(3) Strategy and Policy people: this includes people like myself and James Bonilla (James Bonilla is a pseudonym for a collective of intellectuals, who wish to remain anonymous). What we would like to see is a mix of the two approaches: let Facebook continue to do what they are doing, and then, at a later point, have them submit more convincing numbers in a quarter or two. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with having Facebook spend a further 100 crores on their marketing campaigns in India. Can't see how it can hurt - given that myself and the caped crusader James Bonilla are watching them closely ;)
In the interest of free speech, Facebook should agree to publish numbers and data on what they are seeing in terms of traffic and uptake - the demographics of the uptake are as important as the sheer numbers themselves - and Facebook should also agree to present data as it emerges not only to TRAI but also to public advocacy forums (such as the "Association for Democratic Reforms", just to pick a name). Indeed, anyone who wants the data should have the ability to access it. A closed discussion without the relevant numbers is no discussion at all.

The Wisdom of Crowds should be allowed to exercise its power.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

INNOVATION: Is There a Crisis in Computer-Science Education?

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Furthermore, to focus only on computer-science majors misses a larger point. As Ms. Raja argues in her essay, simply teaching kids how to code shouldn’t be the only goal. Just as important—or perhaps more so—is teaching kids how to think like a computer programmer—what is called “computational thinking.” She highlights some current efforts to teach computational thinking in elementary and secondary schools, particularly to girls and members of minority groups, who remain woefully underrepresented among computer-science degree-holders and professional computer programmers.

And while teaching computational thinking may result in more computer-science degrees, the more important contribution it will make is giving more people across all fields the ability to solve problems like a computer scientist and to speak the language of computer programming.

As Ms. Raja notes, those are skills everyone should have access to, regardless of their major.

Friday, October 23, 2015

World's largest crossword puzzle - puzzle #2 - second screenshot

The world's largest crossword puzzle - puzzle #2

The world's largest crossword puzzle - puzzle #2

Note that, as before, the clue below is also the world's largest crossword puzzle.

The world's longest crossword clue - puzzle #2

The world's longest crossword clue series continues.

Here is another contended for the world's longest crossword clue. This time, there should be no objections.

1 Ac. In fish's body part, sex appeal. And, in Spain, the number that comes last in the series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, ... <all numbers from 1 to a hundred million> , 100,000,000, .... (8)


Note that you can add as many numbers are you want after the number '10'. So this clue is also as long as you want to make it.

In fact, you can make the cardinality equal to aleph-naught. Here is a clue for that.

1 Ac. In fish's body part, sex appeal. And, in Spain, the number that comes last in the series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, ... <all positive integers included here>. (8)

Here is how the clue is spewed out.

You have a machine that spews out the clue, one word (or to be more precise, one token) at a time. The clue itself is infinite in length. Every positive integer will eventually be covered.

Of course, although the clue is infinite in length, the answer itself is finite in length.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The world's largest crossword puzzle - puzzle #1

The world's largest crossword puzzle - puzzle #1

The world's longest crossword clue - discussion - puzzle #1

Cut-and-paste of the discussion on the Cryptic Crossword Society Facebook Page.


Okay, I am going to make a play for the world's longest crossword clue.
1 Ac. No idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, no idea, <repeated a million times> (3,1,4).
Ganesh Nayak NOT A CLUE
LikeReply2 hrs
Anand Manikutty Once I reveal the answer, or someone solves it, it will be easy to see - at least for those familiar with mathematics - that this clue can be made as long as you want. In fact, it has cardinality equal to aleph-naught.
LikeReply2 hrsEdited
LikeReply2 hrs
Anand Manikutty I am claiming two World Records:

- the record for the world's longest crossword clue

- the record for the world's largest crossword puzzle.

Submitted my application to the Guiness Book of World Records.

Your application reference

LikeReply1 hr
Ganesh Nayak Can you pl link to the largest crossword puzzle?
LikeReply40 mins
Anand Manikutty That would be Question 7. I just updated the blog.
LikeReply18 mins
Anand Manikutty
Write a reply...
SSv Avtaar How is it the longest clue? You can count 'a million times' literally and what is the purpose of repetition?
LikeReply1 hr
Anand Manikutty Fair question. 

As for answers, see my blog "Ask the Delphic Oracle":

I have confirmed with James Bonilla. This is a fair cryptic crossword clue.

LikeReply54 minsEdited
Anand Manikutty Can you clarify your question: "You can count 'a million times' literally and what is the purpose of repetition?"? It is ambiguous.
LikeReply52 minsEdited
SSv Avtaar Just 'no idea' means Not a Clue. What is the purpose of repetition?
LikeReply41 mins
Anand Manikutty I have answered your question on the blog. 

At the end of the day, please note that whether you agree with specific interpretations of crossword clues or not, the setter of clues always has much license in the way they set clues. Such license cannot b
e taken away from the clue setter - in other words, the benefit of doubt must always be given to the clue setter. The belief that "the benefit of doubt must always be given to the clue setter" (call it B1) is my ideological belief in the context of this discussion, and, for obvious reasons, I am not going to change my opinion on the matter of that particular belief.

LikeReply27 mins
Anand Manikutty ^^^^

Note that I am arguing in a particular way. The discussion itself is organized in a particular way. This asserts the main points I am making in this discussion while avoiding unnescessary detail.

LikeReply125 minsEdited
Ganesh Nayak NOT A CLUE (this time, about what you're talking smile emoticon )
LikeReply219 mins
Anand Manikutty @Ganesh Nayak - It's a lot of fancy mathematics. If you are familiar with context-free grammars, it would be possible to continue. Otherwise, I will let people (that is, mathematicians) familiar with context-free grammars discuss this further with me.
LikeReply17 mins
Anand Manikutty The basic clue and solve is as below.


The clue is in two parts.

The first part is the phrase "No idea". This clues the final answer "Not a clue". The second part is the rest of the clue "no idea, no idea, ..., no idea". This part is -not- a clue. It is just a long sentence. At least, this is the case in our first reading (call this Reading R1) of this clue. This yields the answer "Not a clue". Thus, the phrase "Not a clue" is clued in two different ways. This satisfies the requirements for a cryptic crossword clue.

LikeReply14 mins