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That bookshelf in your life December 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, image.
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A while back I had though it would be cool to have a place where people submit pictures of their bookshelves; not of shelves themselves but of books in the shelves such that you can clearly read the title/author of each book. Turns out there is already one, or rather there is at least one. And its on Flickr. In the group description, they say :

This group was created so you could browse through the titles on other people’s shelves. Please submit pictures showing your books with readable titles, rather than pictures showing your entire bookshelf from a distance, or pictures of your cat/toys/candles/mugs/skulls/gear/etc on your bookshelf.

I spend little time on Flickr or any photo site for that matter and while I had long heard of this remarkable community thing Flickr has in comparison to other photo websites, only now got a chance to see an example. Those pictures are such a joy to go through, not just to see what books there are out there, but because viewed from a (mental, not spatial) distance, its some kind of collective art – non-mundane art out of things as mundane as a bookshelf.

Not wanting to burden the universe with yet another bookshelf group with members consisting of the founder and a handful of friends who “would-rather-not-be-but-will-be-for-our-friendship”, I got a few pictures of my bookshelf and added it to the group. Here are the pictures and I am mighty pleased about how they turned up. If you decide to put up some of your own, please leave a link in the comments section.

Here is one. This slideshow of all 6 pictures makes for better viewing.

This New Year here is a wish that may there be a bookshelf in everyone’s life. ( And may some of their pictures be up online 😉 )

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Outreach update December 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, life, people.
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About a couple of months ago I wrote about my participation in Kiva, a micro-lending website through which I lent two amounts of $25 each to a Pham, a poultry farmer in Vietnam and Regina, a baker in Honduras. I had promised to provide an update which can be potentially reassuring to anyone who is waiting to see someone they personally know who has down this path before they themselves do. From my lender page, I see that both Regina and Pham are on track with respect to their commitments – Regina had repaid 25% of her total loan ($250 of which my contribution is $25), while Pham has repaid 8% already.

To repeat verbatim from my previous Kiva post : “If you are a US resident and willing to forego one dinner one time and save that $25, and don’t know what to do with that money, well, now you do !”

~~~

During the same week, I decide to sponsor a child through “Save the Children”. Learn more about sponsorship here. (if you are considering sponsorship there are other organizations here along with ratings by the American Institute of Philanthropy)

My sponsor-child is Joce, a 7 year old girl from Haiti. The organization encourages sponsors and their sponsor-children to communicate with each other. A couple of weeks back Joce sent me a drawing. Photographs are below:

 

And my reply to Joce. (Warning : my handwriting is very neat and illegible.)

Biking to work risks October 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, numbers-in-my-life.
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There have been several studies of accidents involving bicyles especially now that commuting to work is on the rise as this post notes.

Bicycle commuting is on the rise, as evidenced by the following articles in Treehugger.com, the Boston Herald, and USA Today. But if the idea of hitting the road on two wheels — with little to protect you from cars and trucks but good manners — strikes you as pretty risky, you aren’t so far from the mark.

Freakonomics also raises a question I think it has raised before – if helmets protect cyclists at all.

I cycle to work as well, been doing that for about 2 weeks now. Of the 1 mile/10 minute one way distance, this is the approximate split.

10% – on a road with some bit of traffic

2% – on a road with some real busy traffic (no, not a highway anyway)

20% – on purely residential cul-de-sac kinda route safe enough to let 8 year olds play.

60% – Third-party corporate parking lot

rest – Yahoo! parking lot

Inspite of this weird journey composition, with about 100 metres in potentially danger area, I always try to remember carrying my helmet. Yet I forget about 1 out of 5 times and if I have to cycle back more than 10 seconds to pick it up, I don’t. I think that should change.

@DC, @ the movies, not @ all in France September 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, general, image.
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I was visiting the Smithsonian Museums past weekend in Washington D.C. As soon as one enters the National Air and Space museum, there is a box that solicits voluntary contributions from the visitors. Among the various dollar bills, Chinese Yuans, there was one 10,000 Zimbabwe dollar bill.

At the moment, that is worth about 1.75 USD. I would still take my hat off to the person who made the contribution – I know its meant to be a good-will contribution rather than a substantial one. Even though we know that if Mr. Robert Mugabe has his way, that will soon be worth next to nothing.

By the way, D.C. is a such a beautiful city. The view from the top of the Washington Monument is brilliant. And so is the view of the National Mall area at night. I drove 30 miles into D.C. in the middle of the night just to catch that view. Even the Library of Congress is such splendor. Or the National Archives, where I got a chance to see the original American Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. The founding principles of this nation although today seem rather common place (notwithstanding the recent foreign policy excesses and experience with slavery) is something I have lot of respect for. It may not be the perfect thing out there as liberals like to remind everyone, but its been better than other horrors the world has seen.

Of course, I still do wonder why office buildings like the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Labor Statistics and such should have been as grand as they are – the bureaucrats have power enough anyway, why those seats of luxury.

~~~

Movies watched past week :

The Graduate, Pulp Fiction, The Departed, Taxi Driver, Tsotsi, City of God, Fun with Dick and Jane and Superbad

To put it in perspective, thats more movies than I watched in the past 2 years. I imagine shooting for most movies on this list – the IMDB Top 250. … Some day, for I am starting work in 2 weeks from now and life won’t be the same again.

~~~

Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. And now, dental caries.

The article quotes a pair of dentists, one from a Paris teaching hospital and one from the French dentistry association, and offers the following statistics (without citing sources).

– one million French citizens never brush their teeth

– half of all French do not brush their teeth in the evening

– 57% of French children under five have never brushed their teeth

– the average French citizen uses between one and two toothbrushes in a year

Hiatus again June 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general.
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Be travelling over the next 2 weeks, so postings will light.

“Do Law” April 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, littlerockers.
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A junior of mine from high school – Gopalkrishnan – writes in response to a thread on our high school Orkut community that I started long ago. The thread is about stuff I have blogged here about – the rather narrow set of options ( med/eng/dental) that rule the minds of the mid-teenagers of the great Indian middle-class. Gopal, who is a law student writes :

man i really think more people shld be doin law….Im in the National Law University, Jodhpur….i no fr a fact that exposure to this field is virtually non-existent..n of corse the notion that all lawyers are crooked!!! well… a small briefing….there are around 8 national law schools in India..they are the equivalent to the IITs..this is one field that is growing by leaps and bounds…n hopefully all these universities will be named IILs pretty soon…..small correction to what azhar said….millo dinsung is in NLS, bangalore..pretty much the best college in the country…there are various law firms like Clifford Chance….Richard Butler…amrachand mangaldas…Rhodes Scholars..recognition..its not only abt wearing the black coat..its abt being there as a manager..this course teaches one to diversify..all that hogwash abt lawyers gettin to fight cases only in courts, its all cliched….a lawyer can spend his entire life without ever knowing how a courtromm looks like…thanks sharath for starting this thread…all those orators, concerned nagariks, would be politicians, n even those who wanna make a buck…DO LAW!!!!!!!!!!!! n yeah if im nt wrong sandhya from the 2000 batch has done law too..so that makes it 4 to the best of my knowledge..

That bold faced part there, I did not know about it until perhaps 5 years ago. My view of a lawyer’s daily job was courtesy – [HB]ollywood. Learning indeed is easier than unlearning, you at least know what you must learn – textbooks at the least.

Random link. A textbook on the relation/interplay of law and economics in society.

Catching up March 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, technology, weird.
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Its been so long since I last blogged that I am almost feeling older for it. Then I know its been just 3 days really.

I finally had to resort to the universal solution to all problems plaguing a Windows machine – reload the operating system. Other than the obvious painful 1.5 hour long process, its really a thrilling feeling. ( Okay, I am an idiot, but MS has not paid me to write this, so read on anyway.) I mean who doesn’t like a sense of a new beginning – a virgin computer, if such a thing ever exits. But its going to be abused all over again, 15 hours a day slogging towards questionable ends.

Aah, thats the other thing. For about 11 minutes the evening before last, I realize that I had the universal question to all of life’s answers – “What the point ?”. Yes, whats the point of it all – anything – working, vacationing, marriage, hatred, love, technology and damn – even economics 😉 ? ( Note : “You work so that you vacation and vacation so that you can get back to work” won’t do ). Yeah, I know, I was merely reinventing ( rediscovering ??) the wheel radioactivity. 😀 Its a question we all have some of the times, and so did almost every man who ever was. Animals too maybe. No, the question doesn’t bother now and I dont think about it anymore. What’s the point !

By the way, I would love to write a long post about it, but to make a long post short – I returned to the Google world, I am liking it.

Bothering Deepak Krishnan ( and tens of million others ) January 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, india, rant.
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Deepak Krishnan asks :

There are also times when I leave aside blind emotion and think with reason. What can the planners of Mumbai do more than what they have done so far? There is no place to lay extra tracks; and the roads are already loaded beyond their capacity. The only factor that I can blame is the ever burgeoning population of this giant city.

All the bus routes that I can take back home, 373 Ltd, 310, 350 etc are all jam packed, with no opportunity to set foot into them, leave alone have a comfortable ride. And this story holds good for all other bus routes as well. The story of the trains is only too well documented to warrant any attention here. The option of letting a few buses go so that you can take the next ’empty’ one is also thrown out of the window…..

Firstly, I sympathize with DK that he has to go through this.

Having exercised my right to feigned condescension 🙂 , let me make a mention of things people do. I am no urban planner but there are a whole lot of things cities around the world have tried. Some of these things already are in place in Bombay – like restricion on where Autorickshaws can ply. But other things include –

Congestion pricing in London and making parking expensive in downtown areas as in NYC ( $15-40 per hour in some areas – roughly Rs. 300 per hour in terms of purchasing power ) are simple examples. Also parking rates depend on not just day of the week but if there is an event etc. For eg: Parking rates near and around stadia almost doubles/triples if there is an important match ! I guess that should apply to near wankhede for One-day matches, Tuesdays near the Siddhi Vinayaka temple and Fridays near mosques etc.

For the interested you can read this interview with an urban planner. Of the many things he says, this stands out :

For example, someone who starts gaining weight COULD say, ‘Oh the problem is my pants are too tight’. Of course it is true but it is not a useful way to look at the problem. You would probably not ever think of eating healthily or exercising if your focus is ‘tight pants’. Focus on people and goods instead of vehicles and traffic jams. Concentrate on how can we move people and goods in the most efficient ways. When you think like that, you tend to think a lot more about public transport, which is much more space efficient.

What he means by “Focus on people and goods instead of vehicles” is probably :

These include downtown parking policy, the encouragement of bicycling, the staggering of work hours by dominant employers, and the use by medium-sized cities of a “multimode” ticket that charges cars entering the city center a toll equal to the transit fare. The reorientation of urban transport analysis that they advocate will by no means eliminate traffic delays but should speed up the adoption of a richer, more flexible, and ultimately more effective set of policies to alleviate urban traffic congestion.

Another example I can think of is to have schools in the same area start at different times – schools in city centers are a big cause of traffic jams – vehicles have lower speed limits, parents’ cars are parked by the side of the road to pick up and drop children.

Where we learnt our lessons January 14, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, life.
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Lions sleep about 20 hours a day (Boy, would I like be one of them!). Adult lions don’t have natural predators. So they can sleep happily. Male lions in the pride don’t hunt. They just watch as the females hunt down zebras, wilderbeests, buffalo etc. The females work in unity. They have a plan.

They spot a herd a zebras grazing in the fields. The most experienced lioness is in the front, slowly walking and stalking the zebras. Her belly is touching the ground, because she is lying low. She doesn’t want the zebras to see her. It is kind of confusing, because lions see in black and white, and the zebra stripes are not helping the situation to just isolate one animal from the herd.

She comes near the zebras and start the chase. Zebras start running. They are 2-3 times as big as the lioness. She doesn’t want to get kicked by them. She isolate one zebra and start chasing it. She is getting tired after a little while.

It is like a relay. Now the second lioness start chasing who was waiting for the zebra to pass her. Then the third lioness. The zebra cannot escape. It falls down, one lioness suffocate it. Lunch is ready.

The males arrive. They eat first usually. If they are not too hungry, they will tolerate the females eating along with them. All this time, Numa and the rest of the cubs are with a babysitter, usually a younger lioness.

From here. Unfortunately until recently, another species I am more familiar practised a similar way of life.

Time for prediction December 13, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, littlerockers, statistics.
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Sometime back I did some data analysis of our batchmates – their field of study, their current location etc. which I posted here. That was looking back and this is now looking ahead.

Out of a casual conversation, Sadiq and I set out to predict the percentage of batchmates who will be outside of India as counted in say 10 years from now, not on a visit but in residence. (not to say settled permanently resident either). I am putting this up here just for record.

Our prediction is 35% out of a total of around 160 batchmates ( about 56 ) that we know of.

Currently, 38 of them that are abroad. Most of them will be around. Currently about 40% of the girls married have relocated outside India. Nearly 40 girls are yet to be married. Assuming similar trends continue, another 16 girls will relocate outside India. That alone takes the number to 54. A few guys will be relocate – studies, jobs – mostly latter. And of the current a few (
Lets see how its all going to turn out.

Managing email December 10, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, life.
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Here are some recommendations for people who have to work hard to manage their email.

  1. If you don’t need to read it now, it shouldn’t be in your inbox.
  2. If you’ve already responded to it, it shouldn’t be in your inbox.
  3. If it comes from a known source (some person, retailer or mailing list that sends you mail more often than once every few months) it should be labeled automatically.
  4. No one needs to look at their own inbox more than once an hour (and for many, once every 2-3 hours).

I have followed rule number 2 mercilessly, rule number 3 very often, but never rule 4. Most of the times the Inbox end up having around 10 mails. This doesnt extend to the Sent mail folders which accumulate about 80-100 mails through the week.

Professing ignorance December 4, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, life, science.
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I didnt know that :

In Iraq, as in much of the region, nearly half of all married couples are first or second cousins to each other. A 1986 study of 4,500 married hospital patients and staff in Baghdad found that 46% were wed to a first or second cousin, while a smaller 1989 survey found 53% were “consanguineously” married. ..

and that one of the possible consequences could be :

Muslim countries are usually known for warm, devoted extended family relationships, but also for weak patriotism. In the U.S., where individualism is so strong, many assume that “family values” and civic virtues such as sacrificing for the good of society always go together. But, in Islamic countries, loyalty to extended (as opposed to nuclear) families is often at war with loyalty to nation. Civic virtues, military effectiveness, and economic performance all suffer.

2. that such a circumstance exists ( and a possible remedy recommended below )

I have long advocated that in terrorist-related offences the right of the accused to remain silent during the trial (a right given to him under many if not most criminal justice systems, including our own) is often a refuge — an escape for the guilty: the accused, after engaging a prominent lawyer, sits back defying the prosecutor to prove every bit of his case beyond reasonable doubt; he will not assist the court. This is all wrong. The “right” to silence must give way, but only at the discretion of the trial court — in the larger interests of society and in the interest of the victims who are affected by dastardly criminal acts.

3. Nor this one :

India is that rare country where it seems to get harder to find a job the more educated you are. In the 2001 census, college graduates had higher unemployment — 17 percent — than middle or high school graduates.

4. that Shekhar Kapur had a website-blog.

5. that Age-based preferences not the same.

Imoso, the highest-ranking male in the Kanyawara community of Kibale National Park, Uganda, grooms Outamba, a middle-aged female. Male chimpanzees at Kanyawara consistently prefer the oldest females in their community as mating partners, suggesting that the preference that human men exhibit for youthful women is a recent evolutionary phenomenon.

Cake talk December 3, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, humor.
3 comments

For no particular reason, two things last night – both firsts – preparing some fried chilli from scratch and baking a chocolate cake ( not quite from scratch ). The choice of books in the background is not a coincidence ( like most things 🙂 ).

[ Click for larger version ]

Ofcourse, I dont want to put this picture out in the open lest it should kill appetite. Ofcourse, if you do choose to click on that link, dont forget to take a look at the the book title in the background.

Previous post on cooking.

Sox matching algorithm December 2, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general.
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Just wear the first two socks you can lay your hands on.

Its worked for me for the past x weeks. If and when we meet and you are caught constantly looking below my knees, I know you are a regular blog reader.

Commanding heights November 30, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, humor.
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There have been a few occasions when this was possible – with two of either Sadiq/Rajaram/Ashith/Prakash on either side ( and myself in the middle), similarities abound. Next time its possible, will get one.

[ Click for larger version ]

Ofcourse, the similarities have to stop somewhere. The left most guy George Stigler and Milton Friedman (middle) are Nobel Prize winning economists and the right most is John Galbraith, an ambassador to India, also an economist.

Linked from here. Here is the ‘actual’ trivia about the picture.

I was probably the last person to go out to lunch with Milton. We met at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco, where I showed him a picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century. Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by George Stigler: “All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.” Milton was so pleased with the photo and caption that he sent it to all his friends only two weeks before his passing.

(The phrase ‘commanding heights’ in the post title is a really really remote pun on Galbraith/Pandit Nehru)

Update : Sadiq adds that at our Golden Jubilee high school reunion in 2031, we will get one such picture !

“Minus the Nobel Prizes”, I was quick to add. 😉

My blogroll status – who is doing what November 30, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, general.
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Deepak has changed the look on his blog. He should also consider blogging more often !

At some point, this girl sat on my lap on the way to school. Now a medical student, its great to read her write like a grownup.

Mona continues to pen haunting melodies.

Going by her latest post citing her willingness to put up with her imperfections, Smitha might not post again.

Whether honesty is the best policy or not, blogging regularly appears to be one.

Somebody appears to have as much liking for spice as I do. ( and an amazing blog too ! )

Combing research topics and a liking for blogging is a good idea.

For graduate students November 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general.
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Some of the best advice I have ever seen. No, this is not of the usual kind. Infact its too practical to be of the usual kind :).

Thats a good start there ! November 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, humor, sport.
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Its generally believed that the start of an essay gets people to really read through it, while the ending can help people retain what they read. And likely the above matters even more when the content itself is something people cannot ordinarily connect to – the college essay/statement of purpose for example.

Here are starts of two articles that I really liked.

When a man sees his end he wants to know that there has been some purpose to his life.

Any guesses on who is being talked about ?

The other one here :

There comes a time in the life of some sportsmen, only some, and it rarely comes more than once, when they believe they can do anything, even fly; when the idea of being vanquished is a distant, lonely world that strange beings inhabit; when the mind ceases to comprehend fear and when confidence breaches its barriers and flies forth into audacity without even recognising it. They call it being ‘in the zone’ and no drug has taken man there, for this is the lovely, unscripted real world.

Hard to guess who this one is about though, not enough context here.

Ofcourse, perhaps the all-time best known starts was Dickens in “The Tale of two cities”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all doing direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Update : Oh man !! Here is the funniest start in a long long time. And dont just stop at this – read the article – there is more (humor) there !

Controversy erupted again this week in Massachusetts over the fact that lawyers have sex.

No surprise the article is from Slate. They have some of the more funny articles /article titles I have seen as I noted before.

Where I shall spend my thanksgiving break November 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, general.
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Warning : Its thankgiving time here – that means 5 days of holidays ( Tue-Sun).

Blogging, therefore, will be ..uuh…heavy !! ( hopefully )

[ The resolution of the photograph is so good that by clicking on it you can read the titles off the books in the book shelf. No kidding, go ahead and try it ! ]

Some action items for this break ( so that I can hold myself accountable on Monday ) in order of decreasing ( increasing ??) weirdness –

– Delete most mails in sent items folder of all my email accounts and sort out the rest into folders !!
– Clean up my desktop – both real and virtual.
– Archive selected items for posterity, disk cleanup and defrag computer. Empty recycle bin !
– Watch 2 movies – “Proof” and another one I dont know.
– Blog(v)
– Attend lunch at Sanjika’s.
– Code Hidden Markov Models assignment. ( HMMs are my favorite mathematical model )
– Catch up on research stuff ; do more on the Information Retrieval Project work.

Although I should admit that its logistical reasons more than anything else that prevent me from taking a break and getting out of Pittsburgh, turns out there is a word for people who prefer to be indoors during breaks.

Once, there was the social butterfly. Now, the Young Indian Spender on high adrenalin is forgoing the night out and curling up at home instead. Insperience is the new getaway. Pop psychologists have identified it as the ‘cocooning’ trend

[ That link appears broken at the moment]

Known unknown to known known September 12, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, general.
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A really pleasant surprise arrived in the form of a mail from a reader. Lets call her Reena. She says :

Your writing skills are too good, i felt refreshed after i read a few notes on your blog. It juz made me feel gud & continue with my boring job of reviewing. Its feels gr8 when i browse thro ur blog, in midst of my work. I have to make my job interesting or else i wont be able to continue working 🙂 Learning is important in any field.

I think its one of the best compliments I have received in a long time. The part about how reading the blog actually helps her feel good and make her job interesting in addition to knowledge dissemination was really satisfying to know.

Reena is an example of a known unknown, if I let Donald Rumsfeld speak for me ! I understand that the blog is afterall in the public domain and therefore there are people who are reading it. That is known, their identity though is unknown. Therefore, the known unknowns. Then there are ofcourse known knowns – others who I know why happen to visit more often and a select few that I know who make it a point to visit. There are unknown knowns too – people who I know, who are online often, perhaps read blogs but I dont know if they do read this blog. And finally, the unknown unknowns – entities that I am unaware of who read blogs. Aliens, intelligent animals/machines. Do they exist ? Well, unlikely, but unknown !

If Reena is reading this I apologize for unnecesarily dissecting what was afterall a simple sincere compliment. I should just have said its great to know so and that its comments like these that keep bloggers blogging !

And welcome, you are now a known known, no longer a known unknown !

Grades and friends September 9, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, general.
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There is some random advice for the black community here. Lot of it makes sense yes. Especially these :

– Change the black culture that devalues education and overvalues ‘respect’

– Make heroes out of black doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs NOT sports stars, rappers, and gangsters. ( I know atleast one of my juniors from high school who should read this ! )

– Quit blaming everyone else for your plight. Yes, blacks have gotten the short end of the stick in America. But so have asians, hispanics, and pretty much every other ethnic group that ever came to these shores. The first step to not being a victim is to stop acting like one!

And I might add that to a large extent, these apply to other backward communities elsewhere too, infact even individuals within the not-so-backward communities as well.

There is a whole lot of research into the effects of good grades at school on the popularity of a student ; the effects can be negative or positive depending on student’s race/ethnicity. Read details here.

Or just this excerpt from here

Among whites, higher grades yield higher popularity. For Blacks, higher achievement is associated with modestly higher popularity until a grade point average of 3.5, when the slope turns negative. A black student with a 4.0 has, on average, 1.5 fewer same-race friends than a white student with a 4.0. Among Hispanics, there is little change in popularity from a grade point average of 1 through 2.5. After 2.5, the gradient turns sharply negative. A Hispanic student with a 4.0 grade point average is the least popular of all Hispanic students, and has 3 fewer friends than a typical white student with a 4.0 grade point average.

I dont know if we see this in India – to the best of my knowledge we dont. But how much of India in terms of location and demographics have I seen at all.

Thoughts on food and food for thought August 24, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, ideas.
4 comments

Ever thought who might be one of the contenders for being the greatest benefactor i.e. who did the greatest good for humanity ? I would immediately have thought of scientists and their inventions – typically vaccinations, X-ray or something related to the medical field.

A child of the Iowa prairie during the Great Depression, he attended a one-room school and aspired to become a high-school science teacher but flunked the university entrance exam. He went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for averting malnutrition, famine and the death of millions.

This is quoting him:

Both the need for additional agricultural production and obstacles to innovation remain, and in recent years, Borlaug has applied himself to ensuring the success of the application of gene splicing, or “genetic modification,” to agriculture. This second wave promises to be as important as the first, offering the possibility of even higher yields, fewer inputs of agricultural chemicals and water, enhanced nutrition and even plant-derived, orally active vaccines.

Environmental extremists, though, are doing everything they can to stop scientific progress, and their allies in the United Nations and other regulatory agencies are eager to help. “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years,” says Borlaug,

Read this wonderful profile of Norman Borlaug here. Linked from here.

Yeah, we in India know him as the Father of Green Revolution but not sure his name would have strike to us as being in top few names of the greatest benefactors of humanity.

I think a topic like that would be good one for group discussions. Many years ago in Nov 2001 when I conducted a group discussion at KREC, I choose the topic of what might be the greatest invention of this century. The point ofcourse isnt to see what is the right answer ( because its rather subjective and several things are interrelated ) but to see what are perhaps the top 5-10 – such a list would be more stable and be more agreeable. Quite engaging it was, the discussion.

Reasons to refuse to engage in an argument July 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, rant.
8 comments

I just thought of some good reasons for never taking up an argument or engaging in a debate with people. If you know of others, please leave a comment.

1. If you cannot quote a source majority of the times and for strongest of your assertions.
Eg : “I heard that…”, “My friend was saying that…”, “I saw somewhere…”
Retort : I generally trust you, but sorry, not now.

2. If you doubt generally credible sources and refuse to list sources that you find credible.
Eg : “How can you trust the Washington Post ….”, “That reporter is biased ….”
Retort : If you cannot trust well-known historical or contemporary sources especially when it does not suit your argument, why should I trust you (especially when it suits your argument !) ?

3. Anecodotal evidence
Eg : “This happened to my friend…”, “My brother is not like that …”
Retort : You friend and and your brother are statistical outliers, they dont matter when we are looking at aggregate patterns.

4. Quoting someone to make a point
Eg : God exists because Einstein said – “Religion without science is lame…”
Retort : Einstein didnt have the last word in ornithology, etymology, paleontology, economics or medieval Indian history. He wont even have one here.

5. Excessive relativism and semantic gymnastics
Eg : “It depends on how you define it”
Retort : No, it doesnt. By the way, we are done with debate. And that doesnt depend on the way you define “debate”

6. Profanities
Millions of examples : You are such an *{expletive}*
Retort : Its a debate no more. Lets close.