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Why I have blogged and why this is my last post December 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in landmark-post.
23 comments

I think this had to happen one day. At least once every while for the past few months I have asked myself why I have been blogging. And what would be of the several hours every week if there were no blogs to read or post to. Finally, about a week back I decided to find out.

I am going off on a blog-sabbatical (is there such a thing ?)โ€“ one that will last at least a year. I will be a different person a year from now (nothing portentous, we all will ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and not unlikely different enough to not return to blogging in its current form. In what will therefore be my last post for another year to come and maybe last ever on Epistles, I will briefly (we’ll see how brief it will end up) outline why.

Epistles was my fourth attempt at blogging. Or was it the fifth. I started this blog as somewhat of a countervailing/compensatory force against other developments in my life. This may have been what kept it going in its initial days when there were hardly any readers. Over the next months as activity picked up (which meant waking up on an occasional morning to see more comments on the blog than emails in my inbox and an average of 3200 page views per month), I spent more and more time posting material and generally thinking about what the blog should look like.

And then when I say blogging, I am also including the time devoted to regularly following the handful of blogs which I quite frequently also linked to. Following these blogs also meant I had, through their writing, access to some of the most brilliant, articulate and opinionated people in the blogosphere (and at large) – Tyler Cowen, Greg Mankiw, Megan Mccardle, Gary Becker, Richard Posner, Daniel Denette, Richard Dawkins, Bryan Kaplan, Arnold Kling and Robin Hanson to name only a few. And even if it would be hard to recall specific instances of inspiring prose (because there were many), it would be equally hard to deny that contemplating their writings motivated fundamental changes in my outlook on the world. Several years down the road if I have to pick two characteristic themes of my 2006-2007, my experience as a blogger would rank in there.

Of course, all this begs the question that if it was all this great then why stop ?

Well, all this also means that for over 22 months now, I have spent most of my leisure reading. And did so with little sense of direction. Much chaos and much clutter. I had a good idea of what subjects interested me and there were many and diverse. Given a choice between walking far and digging deep, I always chose the former. My sources were relatively few โ€“ a handful of blogs and news sites โ€“ but many of them were themselves producing heterogeneous content and in copious amounts. And so, month and month I followed commentary from famous blogs and bloggers and while I was at it, produced some of my own.

This kind of reading and this kind of blogging had become a way of life. I liked this model โ€“ it came naturally to me and went well with my intellectual restlessness and a general lack of time to pick up details with some exceptions. And I want to try and change this. It might appear to be (and it is) change for changeโ€™s sake but then its also true that there is only that much intellectual enrichment to be sought from reading yet another article on rise of this phenomena or that, influence of this person or that, or ponder over possibility of this event or that. This change is mostly about experiencing something different and new. And its also about a feeling that although it could have always been better, I am happy with this experience and its time to move on.

I donโ€™t exactly know to what end how all the time spent blogging will be put to, but the bigger picture is that I am now looking at activities that are more focused in nature โ€“ learning some music, catching up on some photography and maybe, just maybe trying my hand at reading some fiction.

I thank my readers who gave me a chance to put down my many thoughts, and for having put up with my (pride and) prejudices :). Through Epistles, I also met and came to know many individuals who I would otherwise have never known (and have not yet met) and then those that I may still not know. I am touched that many of you have been a part of this blog even in the absence of that vital connection that knowing the blogger personally brings.

I thank you all and lets stay in touch.

 

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My mom’s blog October 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, landmark-post.
2 comments

And it finally is done.

My mom has a blog – Cuisine India !

Its been an amazing effort on her part indeed. Its one thing to use a computer to just read email and quite another to do just about anything else. Using a word processor – both within XP and on WordPress, remembering to save documents, and remember where they were saved to retrieve them later, having that mental picture of your hard drive’s directory structure, using a digital camera, transferring images from the camera to the machine and then uploading the images onto photobucket and then linking to those pictures from the WordPress Editor. And thats just being brief. An incredibly steep learning curve has been scaled !

As she says on the blog :

I am just learning and new to the medium of blogging and to pace myself well, at least for the first few weeks, I will put upย  one new recipe every Saturday and Wednesday. Any comment you leave, whether about the blog or about specific recipes will be an encouragement.

Feel free to stop by on the blog and say Hi maybe. And as a favor to me, send around this link. Either a link to this post so people know the context or even directly to the blog.

Leaving Pittsburgh – last day on Campus edition August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, contemplation, education, image, landmark-post, reminisces-2000.
9 comments

Note : Post was written on Aug 27th, 2007, posted only today.

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Today is the first day of classes for several hundred students at Carnegie Mellon. For the last few days, I have seen them – the undergrads – walking down corridors, sometimes asking for directions, in cafes discussing courses, in bookstores buying text books ; I see on the lawn having barbecue parties amid music, games and getting-to know-each-other ice-breakers. And then yeah there are the graduate students too, though they appear to have no time for ice-breaker parties (yet), engaged more in search of funding, house-hunting and research advisors.

The irony then is that to me its the last day on campus. Done with my courses, research and pretty much everything expected of me, I walk around campus reminding myself that its going to be the last time for many months/years perhaps before I come back for a visit. Its going to be weird tomorrow when I walk up to meet the administrative assistant to surrender my college ID card, in the process losing pretty much all building permissions and other privileges that come with being a CMU student. I wonder why they need to do that – taking away something that is arguably the most valuable souvenir from our college days, something one had to be carried everywhere, everyday. Besides, my login account including email-ID and campus wireless network permissions die on Aug 31st, 2007. In all likelihood therefore this will be my last post from an IP address that goes 127.237.xxx.xx, the last from the Carnegie Mellon University network.

I have been here at CMU for barely 27 months. When I came here I was planning to be here for at least 5-6-7 years to get my Ph.D. Somewhere along the way I decided the drop plans of a Ph.D – its queer to say the least because when I started applying to US Graduate Schools, admission into the CMU Computer Science PhD program was something I would have given everything for. And now when there was nearly just that opportunity, I have decided to give it a pass and move on, albeit with the plans of a PhD not completely ruled out. Its amazing how things change that much in this little time.

Especially when the task of making it to the CMU program with full scholarship seemed totally unsurmountable. So much so that after one year of trying when funding finally came through, I wrote to a friend where I mention :

Why is this mail looking like such a hyperbole โ€“ replete with exaggeration of a past desperation and present fulfillment. If it indeed seems so, it is unfortunate. To an insider person like me, over 2 years of whose life have been spent in singular and mindless pursuit of this cause, whose several waking moments were occupied by an inadequacy and financial insecurity that this situation created, whom it taught, in a foreign land, some of the lasting lessons in handling ambiguity, pressure and humility, whose emails, letters, chats and conversations were surfeit with thoughts of these, some of whose relationships were built on or broken by this occupation and to whom it culminated in the greatest moment of sheer satisfaction involving 1 man, spanning 2 countries, over 3 years, across 4 cities and involving several direct and indirect contributors โ€“ it is no overstatement, it is just a fact of life.

Today though I feel at peace. Lot of good things have been happened in the past couple of months – graduated, got exactly the job I wanted, helped my parents to a very successful, worthwhile trip to the US, 3 conference publications went through and its been generally more peaceful since it was not really that hectic at work.

Of course, if I were doing my masters program all over again, I would do several things differently – read more research papers, spend more time on homeworks and submit them on time :-), pay more attention in some of the courses and develop a stronger social circle of geeks (and savants ?? and polymaths ?? :D) etc.

Overall, I am happy about the way things have turned out with my program, even about my decision to not immediately continue into a PhD program. I did not want to indifferently drift into the another 3-5 years commitment, nor did I want to be on cruise control and hurry myself into it. I now have a conscious discontinuity that will allow me to experience life as something other than a student (first since June 1985 I guess ๐Ÿ˜€ ), in a different place over 3000 miles away (albeit in the same country), working on similar but not quite similar problems, with a wholly different set of individuals, in a different (corporate) setup, with a substantially higher remuneration. In short, I am bringing about a complete overhaul in my ‘condition of life’.

Yet, there is sadness. I learnt a lot just being on campus at Carnegie Mellon and brushed shoulders with some great guys. 2 years there and I have come out a really different person.

Comparing this to other times of leaving school or college is called for. Mysteriously, leaving KREC meant pretty much nothing. As for Boston University, I mourned leaving Boston more than leaving BU . Leaving IISc was sad but anticipation of the unknown world was a compensation. Leaving Little Rock in 1999 (high school) and CMU will rank among those sad partings, but for entirely different reasons. Leaving Little Rock was about missing all those great times I had with that relatively large friends’ circle and the school, with its walls, grounds and buses, which was my home of 10 years. Leaving CMU is something which I may take a while to even describe to myself, a sadness that is intensely personal, one that has little to do with people out there.

On balance though, I now know its possible to be immensely happy and equally sad at the same time in a way that does not add up to zero (indifference). This is that one moment.

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‘ve g@t j@b July 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, landmark-post, littlerockers.
8 comments

Just to make this announcement which is long overdue (June 27th), I am joining the Applied Research Group, Search Monetization at Yahoo Inc. in Santa Clara starting Oct 2nd, 2007.

Thanks all for your concern, help and hanging around as my travel for these interviews kind of unraveled while this blog lay here unsaddled.

I will have more to write on this whole job thing in the coming days.

Disclaimer : My past views do not represent that of my future employer. Nor ofcourse will my future views represent that of my then past and now present employer. ๐Ÿ˜€

Related link : School buddy Supreeth has a blog, where he gets metaphorical. ( Also in taking up the study of economics as a non-professional/non-academic endeavor , he appears to have taken up my advice to the 15 year old ( though of course he is an eligible bachelor at 25 ๐Ÿ™‚ ) ).

Feedback on the feedback July 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, landmark-post.
1 comment so far

I am really glad I took this break, and more particularly put this break to good use. (yeah Ravi, I probably even overdid it ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I will use this post to provide some feedback on the feedback I received.

Firstly, about why the survey was required at all. One might imagine that blogging especially of my kind is a recreational activity and hence there is no need to get an average opinion on that. Perhaps, but not so with what I think about blogging – I devote a fair amount of time on the blog and have never taken pleasure in writing something that none will ever read. Hence, but for a handful of them reading this would stop right now ! In such a scenario if I can make people’s overall reading experience a little more enjoyable with reasonable change in style and pattern, its a win-win and I welcome it. Hence the survey.

Coming to the feedback itself :

  • Among the comments I got, one that appeared persistently was that there were far too many posts that were merely links and posts that include more personal touch are more enjoyable to read. ( “Decrease the percentage of your posts whose ‘central theme’ is the link to the huge article”, “the posts have just too much information to concentrate”, etc. ). This in some sense reinforces the notion I had as well – that some serious ‘quantity control’ was required – and I am happy it came out in the survey. At the same time there are those who really don’t mind having so much content since after all there is always a choice (“you can blog at your own pace without thinking too much about the frequency of posts”). I think I have found a compromise – I will cut down on number of posts that are merely an aggregate of links. However these links will still be available, except they wont appear within posts. I have a separate section called “Just been reading” which will link to my delicious account. I will instead write more personal posts, which obviously will mean a slightly less frequent posting.
  • Another suggestion has been about having a “currently reading” list. Well, I am not that voracious an offline-reader anymore (more in a post :D), but (and hence) maintaining that list should not be too hard. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Also one of you wanted comments to open in a new window – I am trying to see how that is possible, could not figure out yet. Any ideas ?
  • I am surprised none of you were pissed off with my constant changing of templates and layouts :p or in other words, I am not surprised people chose to be polite about it ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • I have a addition called Top Posts in the bar on the left side which collects some of the most linked posts in the last 48 hours or so. From my observation so far, these are not always the most recent posts and some of them are way into the past. I thought I will leave it there – hopefully it throws up some random posts deep into the past for your sampling.
  • And my apologies, the survey software sucked or to put it more aptly – I sucked at using it.

That apart, thanks for all the nice words. I remind myself every now and then that its quite an honor that “you write something every now and then and people stop by to read it”. Over the months readers have drifted away, some drifted in and some just hung on. To all of you a big word of thanks.

Back to some ‘serious’ blogging. ๐Ÿ™‚

One February 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, landmark-post.
1 comment so far

A little over 2 years ago, I started the second of my five blogging attempts. I remember deciding that I will assign 30 mins every day to blogging – the last 30 mins of everyday before I retired to bed, I was to write something. It worked. 3 days later the blog shut shop.

This blog is 1 year old today. And although this blog started on the inevitabilities and virtues of disastrous personal failures, fortunately, its been a bad example of one.

And for that, I can’t thank readers enough.

Mumbai Mirror (mis)quotes me February 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, landmark-post, movies.
1 comment so far

The day before during my blogging binge I wrote a scathing post titled “Ms. Rai and her many husbands” where I wrote about Ms. Aishwarya Rai’s new found tree marrying habit. Folks at the Mumbai Mirror found it amusing enough to mention and link to this post of mine.

Towards the end of my post, I wrote :

No, thats not all. The night before as I was taking the CMU college shuttle back home at 2:30 am, the driver was listening to a radio show where a ‘demonologist’ was being interviewed. Yeah, I don’t know if there is such a word, but yeah, as you guessed, he studies demons for a living.

I was trying to make the point that these superstitions aren’t the privilege of oriental cultures, one is as likely to find them in an ultra-religious country that I currently live in. Two things happened :

a) I got a mail from a reader ( of the paper apparently ) Mr. Lucio Mascarenhas who was kind enough to send me wikipedia links to the mention of the word “demonologist”. Thanks Mr. Mascarenhas for the pain you took to find the links and write to me, I really didnt care to look it up when I wrote the post.

b) Secondly, I notice that Mumbai Mirror has changed some of my words. It says :

No, thatโ€™s not all. The night before as I was taking the train back home from work at 2.30 am, the driver was listening to a radio show where a โ€˜demonologistโ€™ was being interviewed.

Somebody out there at the Mirror doesn’t want me to remain a CMU student anymore – they would rather have me take the train to work. Just to offer a correction – I haven’t had a job ( or left school ) in the last 25 years. I turned 25 in Oct 2006.

[ Earlier this month, Shashi Tharoor in “The Hindu” quoted me right. ]

Shashi Tharoor quotes the "Epistles" January 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, landmark-post, life, media.
9 comments

About a month ago I wrote this post quoting Shashi Tharoor’s article on doctors leaving the Indian shores – the medical brain drain. Since Tharoor took the often cited ( and more than meritorious ) position that the Indian public should not be subsidizing the education if they were to leave Indian shores to adopt foreign lands. Recognizing that this position will not go down well with a section of the public, I wrote :

Although I more than recognize the issue as I wrote before, I will not jump to conclusions right here, right now. In the meantime I will leave Mr. Tharoor to read his weekly quota of hate mails.

Turns out I wasnt entirely right. In his article in the Hindu dated Jan 7th, 2006, Tharoor says :

As is usually the case, the responses can broadly be divided into two categories: agreement (sometimes enthusiastic) and disagreement (often vehement). But many in both categories of respondents are willing to see some merit in the opposite point of view, which has led to somewhat more nuanced positions than anticipated by blogger Sharath Rao in Pennsylvania, who cheerfully wrote, “I will leave Mr. Tharoor to read his weekly quota of hate mails”.

Looking back at 25 October 12, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in landmark-post, life, reminisces-1990s.
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I received this birthday note from Vineeta Rao, a schoolmate, the actuary I referred to in my earlier post ! A quote she mentioned goes :

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.

Amazing, isnt it. How so true ! Recent weeks have brought some truly unprecedented perspectives that, I believe, come with growing up. There is no better occasion to put this on record than now as I turn 25. There is no worse occasion than now to attempt it though, its going to take a while and I am tired ; I hope to have something put up here by the end of the month.

For now, a short little note will substitute.

I have now been a student ( in a literal sense of the term ) for 21 years now, but dont consider myself good enough at any single or more subject to single-handedly author and maintain a blog dedicated to it. There has been dabling with different things – deep academic passions – physics (1997-2000), Electronics (2000-01), Signal processing (2001-04) and mathematics and statistics ( 2004-present) and there have been deep non-academic passions – self-improvement (1994-1998), philosophy and psychology (1996-2000), popular science and culture (2001-present), Politics and international diplomacy ( 1995-present), Old Hindi music (1993-present), writing ( 1994-present ) , and economics (2005-present).

There is a problem however. Firstly, the durations I mention in the context of non-academic pursuits can be misleading for they dont refer to periods of dedicated study. They havent been intellectual hot pursuits with an eye on becoming an expert. Instead, these refer to periods when there was a honest and often a flippant interest in reading material on these subjects. So nothing really special, we are all involved in a bunch of things we dont mind reading stuff about. Secondly, as I was telling Kavya, a friend of mine from school, there has been no formal recognition whatsoever and for a good reason – there is nothing definitely solid about many of these indulgences – there are just bits of facts, opinions ( prejudices ??) and perspectives strewn around the mind like a things in a room that has just been burgled. And for this reason, there are so many occasions when I am in a position to say – “I am not an expert on the subject but this is what I read….”.

Maybe “being good enough to write a blog on a subject” is too high a standard to judge one’s knowledge. Maybe depth is just one of the criterions out there and the economist in me reminds me of the tradeoffs between depth and breath that are invariably involved. What is important is whether the process of flirtation with varied interests has been enjoyable at all. No question about it.

Marking 100 September 24, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in landmark-post.
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In an understated celebratory manner ( was that an oxymoron ) that is typical of many things in my world, I announce the completion of 100 posts at Epistles. Or maybe in keep with the name of the blog I should probably say 100 letters.

Thanks everyone. Keep coming back, keeps this going.

So long summer and thank you readers ! August 30, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, landmark-post.
4 comments

And just like that summer is over. I made a post here at the beginning of summer where I promised to be more ‘prolific’ through the 3.5 summer months. I just went back to see if I kept my promise ; looks like it hasnt been a bad job afterall.

Between Feb 25th and May 11th, 100 days produced 21 posts, approximately 1 every 5 days. And now comparing that to summer where May 11th-Aug 28th, 108 days produced 66 posts – a little more than 1 post every 2 days, I think the promise was kept !

Looking back, I think having managed to manage and regularly update this blog has been one of the positive things that have come out of the past few months. It was always going to be hard given that this is my 4th attempt at blogging. All the credit goes to you guys – the usual suspects – Aswin, Deepak, Natasha, Ranjeeth, Rajaram, Sameer, Vineeta and the unusual suspects who I might not be aware of.

This semester that started yesterday though might turn out to be the busiest ever and hopefully productive in a more academic sort of a way. So if I return to my earlier frequency of posting, I would not be surprised. So should be the case with my readers !

Letter to Mankiw July 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, landmark-post.
4 comments

I have quoted/linked to Greg Mankiw ( here, here, here and here ) for quite a few times in this blog and several more times in my conversations with friends and a several more times in helping me assimilating things I read elsewhere. I could not finally resist writing to him today. I am posting my email to him here.

Hi Greg,

I am a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon studing Computer Science. I have been following this blog almost everyday for about 3 months now. I have no absolutely no formal Economics background ( though I am trained in computer science and statistics ) but nevertheless I find a majority of the posts quite comprehensible and I find myself quoting you very often in my conversations on these topics with friends and colleagues. The players in the comments section notably isocrates, mvpy, happyjuggler etc. are now household names ( atleast in my one-man household :)).

The above might be quite expected but what I discovered over time was just how much it has improved my understanding of this country, its challenges, its accomplishments and some of its more nagging problems. I am a native of India and I would not confess to having as much understanding of India’s problems – facts and figures, policy deliberations, policy failures etc. And this is after having lived in India for my first 23 years. I know of very few professors from elite Indian universities or from the government or private thinktanks who volunteer so much time and effort as you ( and other economics bloggers ) do.

Therefore, although its very unlikely that you counted among your readers too many of my kind when you started off (did you ?), you have been doing a great job not just as an ambassador for your profession, as is obvious, but one of you country.

Keep blogging, Greg !
– Sharath Rao

Resource mis-allocation ? July 19, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, india, landmark-post.
9 comments

This picture from the Hindustan Times sourced at 9:35 PM, EST from here had me shocked !

Does this picture suggest lack of resource (roads) or highly suboptimal allocation of the same. I dont know much about Delhi ( except that the ITO (Income Tax Office) area is rather busy – but what is the empty double lane highway lying there. Am I missing some detail ( very likely ) or is this another case of the suboptimal and wasteful use of precious resource (road space in crowded Delhi ) ( especially at precarious times ( heavy rains )) that we see in India. Remember Nehru said “profit ( and often consequently efficiency ) is a dirty word.”

Lack of profit (inefficieny) then is a dirty ROAD !

Also note : The traffic is in the opposite direction on the highway. That may say something, but I am really clueless !

Update : Tyler has linked to this post from here. Welcome MR readers. Some of the comments on MR in response and Joe here on this blog pointed to the how this would be a usual phenomenon here in the United States on interstates in and out of every city. This has interested me too and caused to me to ask is there no way to utilize perhaps some of the sparsely used lanes more efficiently. Like bus timetables that are non-linearly spaced not the best comparison for essentially one of these is a costly hardware change, the other being a software tweak !. Bottlenecks at their ends would be another issue – but that exists even now anyway.

Either way, there has to be some way to use what is afterall a poorly used resource