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The WT! story today December 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in culture, weird.
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 From a Times article on the Apple retail experience:

Two years ago, Isobella Jade was down on her luck, living on a friend’s couch and struggling to make it as a fashion model when she had the idea of writing a book about her experience as a short woman trying to break into the modeling business.

Unable to afford a computer, Ms. Jade, 25, began cadging time on a laptop at the Apple store in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Ms. Jade spent hours at a stretch standing in a discreet corner of the store, typing. Within a few months, she had written nearly 300 pages.

Not only did store employees not mind, but at closing time they often made certain to shut Ms. Jade’s computer down last, to give her a little extra time. A few months later, the store invited her to give an in-store reading from her manuscript.


Mind and language December 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, weird.
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That line there in the boxed part of the picture below. Read it once. Pause.


What does it mean ? Read it again. Does it mean something different ?

Maybe its too late in the night but the first two attempts I thought why would somewhat want resumes of missing people ? Finally I concluded that the word “resume” has a meaning I don’t know, which is that it can just mean the contact details of individuals so as to help them be located/identified, and not a job pitch.

Until that is I visited the page and found the real story. (And all this inspite of knowing the sense of the word that means “restart/continue”.)

P.S: I would be curious to see to which interpretation of the sentence would statistical parsers or/and language models give a higher probability. (Of course they are actually two different words rather than being homonyms, but most automatic Natural Language Processing systems disregard the “whatever” that appears above the letter ‘e’ and build consider the two words as being homonyms.

P.P.S: My post title is another deliberate attempt at misleading the reader. Is that v divided by n or resume as in verb or noun ? Now you know

I changed the title without realizing I did and ended up misleading you about having misled you already when I had only misled myself. Smart ass me.

Jaywalking in Delhi December 6, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, policy, weird.
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Threat of harassment allegation

We know that we have violated the rule. But we did not know that such a rule is being implemented and will never repeat the same. But where are the female cops? Keep away from us or else we will sue you for harassing us.

Fear of nuisance value

I will not pay the fine as I do not have Rs 20 with me. If you want to send me to Tihar, then do that. It’s better as I might get free food there.

Call for humanitarian consideration

I had to rush as someone had expired in my family and that is why I did not look for zebra crossing.

There are among the various emotions and states of mind that the Delhi police finds itself in. As the article says:

With the launch of crackdown on jaywalking in the Capital on Wednesday, Delhi Traffic Police had a tough time implementing the drive.

Sentences of the day December 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, ideas, weird.
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Two sentences, at two distant points in the vast multi-dimensional space of thoughts.


“My father looked at me,” Mr. Aiken recalled, “and said, ‘I’ve been around 60 years and I’ve yet to find something I’m passionate about except your mother.’”


“We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.”

Head to this article if you don’t want to break your head over sentence 2.

Sentence 1 is from here.

LTTE suicide bomber video footage December 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, videos, weird.
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Warning : This is a very graphic footage, not of the run up to or of the aftermath but of the event itself.

Among the many reasons to watch this video is the quality of the footage. No, don’t get me wrong, I am talking not about how very graphic and of clear quality the video is, which it of course is. What I am referring to is that they have footages from several cameras that capture the several stages (time slices) leading up to the actual detonation. And what you will note is how its not at all trivial to guess until the very end as to who the suicide bomber actually is. In fact I imagine those who watch too many movies will likely do worse in discerning what is actually happening (unless this caveat of mine makes you discard your first guess.)

This is not to make a spectacle out of death. The reason I am making an ‘exercise’ out of this video is so we can take a moment to put ourselves in the shoes of the law enforcement and security forces and imagine how hard their job is.

Video link. It is mirrored here as well.

As an aside, I think to myself how there are so many things in life to give your life to – art, science, public service, loved ones etc. But what is there in whose service one should give her/his life away ?

P.S : The AP has a related story here.

“Karachi Beach girls” running around “Lombard Trees” looking for “work permit for their spouses” November 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in numbers-in-my-life, weird.

To answer therandomizer’s questions.

So … tell me ! What search queries have brought people to your site? What is the most consistent topic? Where do you get most of your traffic from? And what is the weirdest query someone has entered to find your site? 🙂

Here is the list for today:

karachi beach girls
Nasim Talib Black Swan
nris work permit for spouse
orkut friend request specials
“sagarika ghose”
book ends
lombard trees
greetings to teacher leaving for higher
profound sentences

Think about the guy who is looking for the work permit for his spouse and finds this post.

Beach girls ? On this blog which someone said ” ruminates on everything but sex” ?

And lombard trees ? What are they ?

Well, what do I say except that this is what Einstein thought of Gandhi :

Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

So lets paraphrase Einstein and say that “generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such humans as using keyword-based search engines ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

Darwin award, Child labor and Sweatshops November 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, history, weird.
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Meet Toni Vernelli:

Incredibly, so determined was she that the terrible “mistake” of pregnancy should never happen again, that she begged the doctor who performed the abortion to sterilise her at the same time. He refused, but Toni – who works for an environmental charity – “relentlessly hunted down a doctor who would perform the irreversible surgery.

And why ?

Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of over-population.”

Linked from here. One of the comments on the post implies that she should next be aiming for the Darwin award.


The sweatshop dilemma – this time in the Indian context – manhole covers headed for New York City made in India. Dani discusses discusses the implications of this article as a starting point. But we know that the debate is more general. A related article by Amit Varma on Child Labor is here. Usha has a few very interesting accounts and personal recollections pertaining to the dilemma.

Then there is Nicolas Kristof’s very controversial sweatshops column in the Times.

And Krugman’s article from 2001 where he said :

There is an old European saying: anyone who is not a socialist before he is 30 has no heart; anyone who is still a socialist after he is 30 has no head. Suitably updated, this applies perfectly to the movement against globalization — the movement that made its big splash in Seattle back in 1999 and is doing its best to disrupt the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City this weekend.

The facts of globalization are not always pretty. If you buy a product made in a third-world country, it was produced by workers who are paid incredibly little by Western standards and probably work under awful conditions. Anyone who is not bothered by those facts, at least some of the time, has no heart.

But that doesn’t mean the demonstrators are right. On the contrary: anyone who thinks that the answer to world poverty is simple outrage against global trade has no head — or chooses not to use it. The anti-globalization movement already has a remarkable track record of hurting the very people and causes it claims to champion.

 And thats enough material for a high-school debate on sweatshops. Of course, you will then be below 30 and with much of the above material open to criticism of having no heart.

“Life’s like that” November 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in weird.
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On a backside of some body lotion in a friend’s bathroom :

Directions : Apply all over the body.

When curiosity baffles. No idea what these products actually do.

An expletive and a pun today October 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, ideas, weird.

In the annals of the weirdest things anyone ever said about me is Proses Anonymitus (remember her/his article I linked to earlier):

Sharath Rao has a good blog where he ruminates on everything but sex – a typical goody goody educated [..expletive ] Indian student’s blog, if I can say without making him feel bad. Nevertheless, his perspectives on some aspects of the desi life are good. I blogged here on one of the issue that he picked up, for which he later responded. May he get a lot of girl friends who likes him.

[ Emphasis mine ]

I am reminded of a related fact. Back last July I wrote this post, the word “rafian” implying of course that I am a fan of Mohamed Rafi’s voice/songs. For nearly an year from that point on and sometimes even today, at least a handful of visitors would land up on my blog looking for that word. It does not take a genius to investigate why this was happening and given that my work and attention lies bang in the middle of this domain – search engines/information retrieval – only made this more natural. Try searching for the word on your favorite search engine.

This has understandably reduced in the past few months perhaps because the search results for that word on major search engines don’t have my page in the top 10 at least (effect of time). Just a little technical speculation for those who care – putting the word in the URL made it worse (for me). As for Proses’ complaint about not writing about sex, I guess I will have to wait until a nanopolitan-esue impulse strikes. 😉 And on girl friends, the empiricist in me is smitten by a serious data sparsity issue. 🙂

Apologies meanwhile to all the beach video surfers.

P.S : As I was searching for an appropriate link to post on data sparsity (insufficient data), this is what I found – what, to me is the coolest multiple pun of the decade.

Many of the cell combinations might not make sense or the data for them might be missing. In the relational world storage of such data is not a problem: we only keep whatever there is. If we want to keep closer to our multidimensional view of the world, we face a dilemma: either store empty space or create an index to keep track of the nonempty cells. Or – search for an alternative solution.

Graphs, Plots and animations September 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, videos, weird.
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Following this blog for a while now, I sometimes am led to wonder if Jessica Hagy must be the one of most interesting people to talk with.

As an aside, a friend of mine talks about how he closes the bedroom doors when he is cooking. Apparently that way next morning his non-Desi colleagues wont know what he has had for dinner. :-). Either you can keep windows open and invite dust into your house or use an AC efficiently keeping doors and windows closed all the time. In the latter case, also don’t forget to keep your clothing away from the kitchen.

Here is an independent confirmation of what Desi food (and its likes) do to you (and your house). As for me, I will anyway keep all doors and windows open and not use the AC if I can avoid it. Given my extremely picky nature especially with regards to food, the one place I really feel Indian (other than of course India itself) is when I am at a non-Desi restaurant.

For people who want to put off getting married.


Now here is something that is not a graph but an animation. Catch this video and everything else on the website. (Thanks to Youtube-freak Sanjika for that pointer)

Stray indulgences once a while September 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, weird.

Like this book quiz.

You’re Siddhartha!

by Hermann Hesse

You simply don’t know what to believe, but you’re willing to try anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you’ve spent some time in every camp. But you still don’t have any idea what camp you belong in. This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It’s time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in ferries.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

“Hey, cops cops !” September 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, policy, weird.
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Over the last 3 days, 5 of us drove around 1400 miles covering states of Delaware, the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland. Throughout the journey, while one person drove, at least one other person was looking out for the cops (both undercover and er….”over-cover”), since we were generally cruising (only slightly) above speed limit. There was talk of being caught and fined etc. In North Carolina interstates, there were what appeared to be about ten ‘abandoned’ police cars for every police car with a cop at the wheel, perhaps just as a deterrent to the drivers. In the context of this experience, this study comes across as interesting –

They examined every warning and citation written by police officers in all of Massachusetts, excluding Boston, during a two-month period in 2001 — over 60,000 in all. Their conclusion wasn’t shocking to an economist: money matters, even in traffic violations. They found a statistical link between a town’s finances and the likelihood that its police officers would issue a speeding ticket. The details are a little sticky, but they show that tickets were issued more often in places that were short on cash, and that out-of-towners received tickets more often than drivers with local addresses.

They also found that out-of-state drivers were more likely to fined than within-state drivers, who were more likely to be fined than in-town drivers. This has got to do with police not wanting to piss off the locals 🙂

Of course, the fact that poorer counties/districts are more strict in enforcing rules and collecting fines is no secret, you hear it all the time. But its one thing to listen to speculations and anecdotes and quite another to see the numbers !!

Another word about the cops is in order. I like them, they are generally great to talk to and very polite. They are rather non-intrusive, although they are very much there – whether its a concert, open air movie screenings or the like. They even betray a sense of humor with strangers like us. As a result seeing them on the road causes no change in behavior, except of course, if you are on a highway behind the wheel. I think thats how it is for most law-abiding citizens whose only chance of being ‘caught red-handed’ is for speeding, thats the only time we ‘feel like criminals’. 😀

I have very different things to say about cops in Bangalore. Though the ones in small-town Manipal/Sirsi are slightly better.

P.S : I like the cartoon on that page as well. And the title of the article too.

9/11 August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, science, weird.

Okay, some insensitive questions about a sensitive event that, according to Steve Pinker, highlight underlying mechanisms of how language works.

Which year did 9/11 happen ? How many do you think would get this right ? ( my wild guess would be say 30%)
If that is tough, how about which month did 9/11 happen ?

Now watch this video.

Quoting Pinker :

That hilarious-but-sad YouTube clip, in which people could not say which month “9/11” happened in, makes a linguistic point – that over time, transparent expressions, such as “9/11,” congeal into rote-memorized sounds, so people stop hearing the “9” in the “9/11.” Much of language is shaped by this process, as I note in SOT and in Words and Rules.

My wild idea : (A similarly sampled set of ??) Indians who know of the event might in fact do better, because for us 9/11 (MM/DD) is an unusual construction, and we might remember this for its oddity.

Don’t just stand there, list something ! August 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, weird.
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I like lists. Top 10 lists. Top 20, 100, I like them, at least for their at most trivial value, besides accessibility and the mnemonic value if you will.

And the kind of lists one makes says a lot about one’s obsessions. Here is an example – “list of literary works most often left behind in hotel rooms.” In Britain that is. ( Link via MR)

Then there are of course the immensely useful Amazon’s Listmania, where people put together a list of products based on some theme. There of course is Amazon’s own rating that rates these lists and calls it the list of top lists.

I am obviously a fan of Tyler Cowen’s list of favorite things. Here is one of my favorites among his list of favorites.

And of course, there is Guy Kawasaki who almost always talks in terms of lists.

Fire last week August 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in reminisces-2000, weird.
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Reading this sad piece of news of the death of fire-fighters on duty helps recall a not-at-all-so-distant event.

Exactly a week ago, some time past 10 pm I heard several fire-engines go past my house. Well, they did not go exactly past, but stopped pretty much outside my building. And they just kept coming. By the time I walked down to the street, I saw a restaurant two buildings next to mine on fire. The narrow street lined with over 9 fire-engines, police vehicles, police dogs (!) and the paramedics. With the smoke coming out of the top floor of the restaurant, hydrants were off and water being sprayed at the building and its  neighbouring ones ( to prevent spreading perhaps)

The street ( Ellsworth Avenue for those familiar with Pittsburgh) is lined with several pubs and cafes (and art shops) and to my suprise, the people were really rather calm, some shooting pictures (follow link for picture and short account), some just standing and watching – either some reassured confidence in the city firemen or just SUI (sedate under influence). As we watched, the ladders were already being set against the building and two firemen went up the ladder. The whole crew seemed calm too ; nothing Hollywoodish about their actions – perhaps given what they must have assessed at first sight as the comparatively minor nature of the fire. Minutes later they were stepped down the ladder and over the next hour the fire had died down and pretty much everything back to normal.

That was my first time ever seeing the firemen in action. But having seen it once, I will always be reminded of the night when I see news like the one above. Amazing guys –  these firemen. 🙂

Update : A better picture and description here.

Numbers in my life – Right/Left click edition July 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, numbers-in-my-life, statistics, weird.

First a question – depending on how numerical/empirical kind of a person you are, this will either make you ponder the question or perhaps the questioner.

Let us say for 10 working days (counting only days when you actually used the computer ) you logged the number of keystrokes and mouse clicks you made. If some software was doing it for you without your knowledge (you should not consciously manipulate them) and then you are required to wonder :

– Do you use left click more often or right click ? Of course, thats a no-brainer, but what is the ratio of your left clicks to right clicks ?

– What about keystrokes ? You know your nature of work – involving more typing or browsing etc. How many key strokes do you think you do with per day ?

– Now if there is a person who uses the right click more than the left click, what is his most likely profession ?

Over the years I have promised several things on this blog – especially when I say something like – “will write on X another day/one of these days”, I have almost never done it (sheepishly yours) 😀 . Here is an exception. In this post on Oct 22nd, I said :

As a separate experiment, I have just downloaded the key counter that will help me “Keeps a running tally of all your keystrokes and mouse clicks. Shows how many keystrokes and mouse clicks you have made today, yesterday, and overall.” I will put up some data here in 2 months I guess :).

Okay, so I have the data, but will leave you to make sense of it. I have data for 12 days from Nov 9, 2006 to Nov 21st, 2006.

Average keystrokes per day – 41060

Average left clicks per day – 3250

Average right clicks per day – 490

So there, roughly 6.6 times more left clicks than right clicks, and 12.6 more keystrokes than left clicks.

I have the exact plot here, but rather noisy I would say.


At the rate of 40000 keystrokes a day, for 300 days a year, for the next 35 years, aah, makes it 420 million keystrokes.

I have to find a replacement now for “Maine baal dhoop main nahi sukhaye” ( not just because I am kinda balding ) to something that uses this chaar-so-bees-million keystrokes.

P.S : I know this data is probably of no real use to any of us, but without at least one measurement it appears to be me that is extremely hard to even give an approximate figure for how many times you use left click per day. 🙂

Misc. July 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, sport, weird.

I am all but out of the job market but this job notice coming from everyone’s favorite country is scary. ( HT : Nanopolitan ). And then why should United States be the only government to fudge facts ?


When we Indians have to explain to an ignorant outsider with an example about this thing about India being a land of contradictions, keep this one handy.

This and that.

You cannot have your rosagulla/gulad jamun/gajar ka halwa/mysore paak. Nor can you eat any of those.

As an aside for several years I wondered how is not possible for someone to have their cake as well as eat it – afterall having the cake is the same as eating it !!


I am not among those who would automatically equate commercialization with evil but this time I agree with my favorite Cricinfo writer Tim de Lisle comparing Wimbledon and the All England Cricket Club over the years.

On Thursday, I went to Wimbledon…

Centre Court wasn’t quite itself, as somebody seemed to have removed the roof…


Coming from cricket, I was very struck by something. No, not the presence of women on centre stage. It was the absence of advertising. There is a little, but it is very, very discreet. The manufacturers’ logos on the players’ kit aren’t visible from most of the seats. On the green-striped lawn, much wider than the court itself, there is plenty of room for billboards, but Wimbledon doesn’t have any. There are only two brand names in sight at all: IBM and Rolex. IBM appears on the little board that gives the speed of the last serve; Rolex is on the main scoreboard. And that’s it. Both these famous names appear in yellow, on the dark green background that is Wimbledon’s signature. Neither logo is big, let alone in your face.


Yes, even I can get totally turned off by somewhat ‘macro-economic’/moral optimization functions for deciding which pet to have. I hate cats and almost absolutely nothing will make me put up with a member of that species.




Ex-defence n all July 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, india, weird.
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A brilliant post on the IE blog about ex-defence officers seeking out corporate positions and the weird incentives they face :

An intriguing aside. Most ex-military officers claim that the CTC of a military officer with around 20 years of service, including all the freebies and perquisites, is around 18 lakhs per annum. The corporate world, however, doesn’t believe it to be true and is not ready to offer a similar deal to them. This argument of CTC is self-defeating. The defence forces are crying hoarse with the government that their salaries are abysmally low and they deserve a massive hike. The corporate world dips into these reports and believes them, rather than a military officer who has no evidence to support his claim, other than a monthly salary slip of 30,000 rupees. As a wag saw it – God forbid, if the sixth pay commission were to consider this claimed CTC for military officers, it would have to bring down the military salaries instead of hiking them!



Oh drunkards, now you may drink more, and more often ! ( Thanks to MR for the pointer )


 One of the most interesting but weird surveys I ever took.

Assorted stuff July 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, geo-politics, humor, politics, weird.

Here again now – with every passing day my ability to discern Onion-kinda news from real news is being lost. I don’t know if its Onion that is gotten that good or the world thats gotten that weird.

Consider these 2 gems :

Looks like the dogs, my last hope so far, have lost it 🙂

US military proposals over the decades. Incredibly funny, innovative.

I can’t imagine the once scientific advisor to the Vajpayee and now President and soon to be a former president Dr. Kalam presenting such suggestions. ( or his reactions on being presented such suggestions by his sub-ordinates )




This article underlines the now familiar theory that terrorism is a mostly educated/ruling class enterprise. The following part stands out :

There is also an argument that Asians who go in for a technical degree often don’t get oriented to any history or social science and so are more vulnerable to odd explanations of the world they may encounter later. Then the information explosion exposes young sharp minds to all kinds of propaganda…

‘Modernity’ in our societies is now limited to acquiring degrees and is just a way of enslaving one to the fruits of technology without imbibing the spirit that is central to ‘modernity’ — acknowledging the right of all citizens on this planet to co-exist as equals.

Of course this is just a theory, there is no data to support this yet. But if at some point some such relation is established, we will come back to rue our education system. Liberal arts education is a marathon, a long term investment – its hard to point out at the end of a history/sociology/psychology course and pin point at the end of it about the value added. It accrues over a period of time that few policy makers have a vision to comprehend or care enough to act on.


My understanding of politics ( which may be cast as naive given my claim ) is that almost every vote should be a conscience vote. I think the (faulty but for want of a better alternative) premise of democracy is that MPs are representatives of the people first, the party only later. I find it amusing that  politicians are criticizing the call for ‘conscience vote’ as being inappropriate. Does it imply that when MPs vote they are supposed to suppress their ideas and just toe the party line ? I know there is a problem with indiscriminate voting but so is the idea that someone can belong to a particular party – how can you find a handful of smart guys that agree ( not appear to agree) on every major issue ?

Meanwhile, I continue to think that Abhishek Manu Sanghvi has the worst job in the world. More BS from him from here :

Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Singhvi joined issue with Shekhawat and dismissed as “misapplied and inapposite” NDA’s plans to seek a conscience vote in favour of Vice-President Shekhawat in the presidential election as had happened in 1969. According to him, “1969 was a case when the ruling party was itself divided and conscience vote was sought because of the division.” To buttress his argument Singhvi claimed that this time the ruling UPA “was completely united and all constituents had signed the nomination papers for Pratibha Patil”.

Uh, so ? That argument is about as valid as saying :

1969 presidential election is different from 2007. That was the 20th century, we are now in a completely new century. So …

The problem is that either he has to be really stupid or has to make statements that make him look stupid anyway.

Games, cards and resumes June 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, economics, ideas, videos, weird.
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Meanwhile in India. ( Extremely graphic, click at your own risk ).

I know this is all restricted to rather remote few parts of India and is not representative of life in India. But think of the parents, its quite obvious that the mere basic quality of being human should enable adults/parents avoid such situations. So one cannot argue about literacy and the like. Its gotta be faith and the million interpretations of faith.


The Top 30 cities in terms of blog posts. Guess which Indian city ( there is only one ) entered the list. Are you surprised that your guess was probably wrong ? Mine was.


The game ( about the beads ) that this paragraph mentions is interesting. Try it at some office party and if you have means to log the guesses people make, note each and every guess.

His main theme is that people under-estimate uncertainty. If someone says, “the chance of X falling between A and B is 90 percent,” the true probability is likely to be 30 percent. He likes to do experiments where he puts a large number of beads in a jar and asks people to guess the number of beads. One point he makes is that the “wisdom of crowds” result (that the average estimate tends to be pretty good) often depends on keeping outlier estimates in the sample. It is the extreme contrarianism of one person in the crowd that keeps the crowd’s estimate from going off track. I wonder if anyone has compared median estimates with mean estimates in “wisdom of crowd” studies.

The median idea is interesting too since medians are not affected by extremes the way averages are.


Another game, this time from a game theorist.

There is an old Princeton tradition that Dixit uses to bring to life what can sometimes be an esoteric and math-heavy subject. Students at that university thank a teacher with a polite and brief round of applause when he finishes a course with them. From that comes the “applause auction”, which is now part of the folklore of economics. Dixit pays anything between $20 and $50 to the student who claps last. So there is an incentive to keep the applause going. Most students drop out of the game after 15-20 minutes, says Dixit. The record is four and a half hours. Often, there is more than one student in the running for the prize, sometimes as many as five or six.


Dubner has a question on video resumes. The comments section in the post pretty much provides all the answers.


Some scary credit card numbers. Stay away from debt ! Use credit cards as you would a debit card, unless there is an extremely compelling reason to make the departure.




UPA round up ! June 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, image, media, politics, weird.

The Indian Express does it twice in a row – either someone out there has a great sense of humor or just plain poor web design skills/presence of mind. What is the purpose of this picture ?


Look you guys at the Express – you are still my favorite newspaper, but don’t work hard to erode that goodwill. Also its not like you have to have some picture there. Its okay if your photographer ( Anil Sharma in this case ) just had a bad day, we all do every once a while.On second thoughts, in the light of what Ms. Patil has to say, this picture seems only naughty.


And then ofcourse there is the Indian Government’s statement in the story alongside :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that ‘it is extremely difficult for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country which is regularly sending its elected representatives to the state Assemblies and the sovereign Parliament’.

[ Emphasis mine. ]

Pray ! Is it supposed to be read thus :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that (unfortunately) ‘it is extremely difficult (even though we would love to) for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country…..

Again emphasis mine.

Some self-respecting government this !


I came upon this old article written by Mani Shankar Aiyer back in Nov 1997. Its mostly about Chidambaram. After all that written, they are now colleagues – Chidambaram, one of the senior most ministers and Mani in a ministry that most blog readers will not recall. Some thick skin there, Mani. That last line of the article alone is ordinarily sufficient to see the irony. ( Not to speak of the article title itself )

Remember Yogi Berra’s – Its not over until its over ?

Dispelling weird notions June 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india, littlerockers, weird.

On late June 13, 2006, a friend (call her Ms. A.) and I were talking late into the night (5 am, so morning really ) when she mentioned she had an interview the next day and must hang up. I told her that her preparation for the interview was done already, implying that her conversation with me the day before the job interview was sufficient interview. When pressed, I explained an even earlier instance of another friend (call him Mr. P. ) with whom I spent most of the night prior to his job test chatting. Mr. P eventually made the job inspite of what he thought was his ‘abysmal preparation’. I, of course was merely joking when I narrated this to Ms. A but she got the job. This became something of a legend and somewhat well-known among my friends.

Last week another friend (Mr. R ) who had heard of this mailed me saying he would like to speak with me the next day. I was amused at the request because R would generally call in without any such prior notice, as friends mostly do. It turns out that Mr. R was trying to be lucky because he had an interview the day after and a phone call with me seemed like a reasonable preparation to do.

Incidentally, I had had a long day, my phone was off and we never got to speak. R had his interview and the day after even got his offer !! He then called me and as we were discussing how the interview went, he mentioned that he had tried to reach me and I never answered the phone.

Oh, am I glad he got the job. For three reasons – a) well, obviously he is a friend and I wish him well. b) the outlandish superstition ( well, thats redundant – afterall all superstitions are outlandish ) that a conversation with me was necessary to ace an interview was dispelled. And finally, had Mr. R not got the offer, a however small but non-negative, non-zero portion of the blame would have been attributed to me. :p

Well, I have a few job interviews coming up in the next few weeks. I intend to stack up further evidence against the above notion – so I will try to get a job without talking to myself ( which I kinda admit will be hard ).

In the meantime, if you have a job interview coming up, try not talking to me the night before. Ofcourse, don’t try so hard that the opposite superstition takes root. Instead, lets do a controlled experiment where a random half of you call me and another don’t initiate contact. If we have a sufficiently large sample, we can get some cool results and publish a research paper 🙂

Follow this link to read more on why much of probabilistic reasoning has to be acquired and there is nothing innate about it.

P.S : Today is also my second computer’s 5th birthday, my KREC classmate ( now at IIMK) Summit Chauduri’s 27th.


If this were the only evidence available, there would be sufficient grounds to declare MMS as being out of his mind. That picture is somehow symbolic of what MMS would do when the Red Army marches into Arunachal Pradesh.

Former Foreign Secretary suggests a possible response to the Chinese :

New Delhi has to respond firmly to China’s strategic containment of India. We should invite Ministers from Taiwan and establish joint mechanisms to promote economic ties with Taiwan, in line with the policies followed by many South-East and East Asian countries. New Delhi should also facilitate wider publicity for the Dalai Lama’s views on the Sino-Indian border. Strategic ties with Vietnam should be strengthened with military supplies, including Brahmos and Prithvi missiles and a Plutonium Research Reactor.

If the current government does any of the above, I will …er…stop blogging on economics. 😀

Data, Women, skills and soaps June 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, india, statistics, weird.
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Imagine all that data of yours – maybe 60 GB drive – documents, spreadsheets, images, C++ code etc. All audio starts playing and video simultaneously through imaginary speakers and screens on the four walls. Now, all of it goes through a superfast printer and gets printed out. How many pages would that be ? (assume no environmentalists hear about this ). Is your house big enough for that kind of stuff ?

Enough imagination. Don’t worry, ain’t going to happen.


How multinationals work ( and should ), from the Chief executive of SAP based in Germany.

Q. Why did you necessarily have to globalize your work?

A. There really is no alternative, for two reasons. It’s foolish to believe today that the smartest people are in one nation. The second is sourcing, at least if you are a big company. If you are smaller, and have a team of 100 or 200 engineers you can stay in one country and try to attract the best guys. But if you are a big company, you need to tap into the global talent pool. In Germany, we now have this big public debate about there being a shortage of engineers in the country. Well, I don’t care, or at least not as the chief executive of SAP.


Mankiw Chacha’s links all :

Keep these numbers handy for your next debate on salaries for Undergraduates in America. ( Upperbound since we are talking of Harvard ). From Mankiw Chacha’s post where a discussion ensues ( in the comment section ) about gender discrimination in pay scales in corporate America. More on gender discrimination in salaries. Oh damn one more – there is Gary Becker’s essay on the same topic. !!

Staying on Harvard, but relevant anyway is the answer to the question of why you must co-operate with people who are engaging in alumni networking. 😀


Barkha Dutt, on India’s national shame :

Here was someone who was indisputably a doormat from the Dinosaur Age and yet she was a national rage. In a country where we are now asking the military to explain why women aren’t let into combat, television’s most iconic female character inhabited an entirely self-referential world. External realities had absolutely no place for the women in Tulsi’s universe. She and her housemates were entirely driven by petty machinations and domestic one-upmanship. Rising prices, career conflicts, politics, the war in Iraq, nursery admissions, books, cinema, music — the stuff of our everyday conversations was never ever part of their discourse.

Yeah, once in a while I agree with Barkha’s views 🙂



Failures, commutes and pet food June 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, ideas, weird.
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My wife, Sally Meyer, and I met as graduate students in chemistry at the University of Kansas. Sally was from Minnesota and was one year ahead of me in the graduate program, which was to have serious consequences on our futures as you shall see.

Those consequences are really interesting 🙂 . Read on.

Its a part of a series called “Commuting for Love”. The magazine solicited essays asking couples ( faculty members/graduate students ) to write in about their days of living apart and commuting to catch up every once a while. The prize winning essay is here but I liked the one above a tad bit more.


The first ever post on this blog was about the ubiquitous nature of failure – why some form of major failure is inevitable every few years. (Maybe I was trying to start off with something under which I could seek refuge if the blog itself failed). Actually not – there was a good reason for doing so, something into which I cannot go here.

Anyway, so now here is a book about failure. The book review has some useful information.

Paul Ormerod, an unorthodox free-market economist in the tradition of Friedrich Hayek, made a surprising discovery a few years ago when he compared the failure rate of businesses with the extinction rate of species. In both cases, instead of an even flow, there were long stretches with few extinctions, interrupted by huge spikes in the failure rate. … Ormerod was stunned first by the spiky patterns and second by the strong resemblance between species and companies. Why should the patterns be the same, after all? Corporate executives constantly plan how to cope with the changing business environment. Plants and animals mostly don’t plan at all. Yet a company is about as vulnerable to sudden death as, say, some zero-IQ South American fungus.


Pet related ponder today :

When you are being served food and perhaps served more than you think you need, you are able to tell the host – “Hey thats enough, I have had quite a bit already.” Do you know animals who do this ? Are they able to plan ahead and ask that they not be served more than they can eat ? Or maybe they can, but they would like to be served anyway ( afterall they can eat it later 😀 ). I wonder.

Weird links today June 6, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, humor, life, weird.
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1. On what and how people learn from near death experiences, I found this a really interesting post because I have been bemused and bothered by this question myself.

2. Uuh, Gorbachev, Reagan, Rajiv Gandhi to Putin, Bush and MMS.

3. On why emigrating to Germany is not an option. 😀 No, its not funny. For, in the social democracies of Northern Europe, questions such as these are not considered outrageous. 🙂 ( thanks to Sanjika for this link )

4. Uh, now another identity crisis.

I am an actor and artiste by profession but by birth I am also an agriculturist in the true definition of the word. I come from an agricultural family. My father, along with his brothers and sisters, owns agricultural property in the form of mango orchards in Shahbaad, Uttar Pradesh. My grand father, great grandfather were also agriculturists.

I guess if you go sufficiently into the past, we are all agriculturists. I don’t really know the social and economic justification of the law that disallows non-agriculturists from buying so-called agricultural land. However, surely its not to enable film stars buy them.

5. Okay, lets see how many people are killed and shops and buses burnt because of this exhibition.

An artist’s triptych of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, n*k*d, stony-faced and surrounded by haunting images of the unpopular war in Iraq, is one of the arresting sights at a major London art exhibition. Michael Sandle, whose Iraq Triptych was unveiled Wednesday at the Royal Academy of Art’s annual Summer Exhibition, depicts a morose Blair and his horrified wife, Cherie, as Adam and Eve, struggling to cover their n*de forms outside their Downing Street home.

Assorted links today May 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, geo-politics, science, weird.

An interesting article about how circumstances and quirks of history endow some of us with unique legacies :

Whenever Russian and American relations look discouraging, which is very often lately, I think about my infant daughter’s late great-grandfathers. In the second World War, one great-grandfather on her American side was a scout for an armored division that raced across France into the heart of Germany, while on the other side of Europe, one of her Russian great-grandfathers was an artilleryman in the Red Army, plodding west against the same enemy. They never met each other, but the cause they fought for is worth remembering this Memorial Day, as both sides again gin up another predictable cycle of tension and suspicion.

Think about how interesting that infant daughter would sound when she relates her legacy. Not that someone should get any credit for that, but such happenstances make some of life’s stories more interesting (to some of us) than others.

The rest of the article is interesting to those interested in 20th century history.


How to lose some pounds ? Remove half of your brain, apparently it does not affect much else 😉

The operation known as hemispherectomy—where half the brain is removed—sounds too radical to ever consider, much less perform. In the last century, however, surgeons have performed it hundreds of times for disorders uncontrollable in any other way. Unbelievably, the surgery has no apparent effect on personality or memory.


Ants build roads. Another example of incredible diversity and brilliance of the natural world.

Army ants tired of potholes take one for the team, throwing their bodies into rough spots to make a smoother road for their sisters, British researchers reported on Sunday. They found that army ants of Central and South America match their own bodies to the size of the hole they want to plug. Several may plunge together to fill in bigger holes, they report in the journal Animal Behaviour. …”When it comes to rapid road repairs, the ants have their own do-it-yourself highways agency,” Franks said in a statement.”

Ofcourse, don’t tell the Bangalore Municipal corporation folks.


And finally, how crackpot are you ?

Whistling and preparations for warfare May 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, weird.
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Its something I always wanted to be able to do. Now that I have found this, practice makes men, (and women and children and senior citizens ( even animals actually) ) perfect. 😀

By the way, that website is really weird, the kind of things you find there. Its the wikipedia model where you can go ahead write just about anything. Here is an example. Look at the method no. 5 and no. 6. Of course, they have a warning there too.


How training procedures have changed at West Point, the United States Military Academy :

The war in Iraq has hovered over the class of 2007, perhaps more than any class before. The 1,000-plus cadets who will graduate on Saturday were the first to enter West Point after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Most arrived on campus in June of that year.

Today, role-playing sessions regularly descend into chaos. “I never did this when I was here in ’85,” he said. “We did road marches. We prepared the defense for defense operations. We were confident the enemy wouldn’t hit us for 24 hours. That was our scenario.”

Today’s West Point cadets are taught how to react to surprise uprisings, often while accompanied by someone acting as an embedded television reporter. “We have a road march, and a crowd of people come in the middle of the road,” Colonel Jones said. “There’s a vehicle on the side. There’s a camera, there’s a kid with a bat, there’s a pregnant woman.”

The best graduation (goof-up) pics ever !! May 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, humor, image, weird.

Lot of water has flown under the bridge ( my most hated cliche ) since my graduation/convocation ceremony. Uuh….well its actually been just 3 days, but trust me even in 3 days, lot of water does flow especially given that there are 800 bridges over 3 rivers in Pittsburgh 😀



Now 3 days later I realized that the best ever pictures from the ceremony were emailed to me today by my good colleague Joy. It turns I was a part of a little goof-up on stage. And I am so glad this was captured by Joy’s camera. He had the camera with the right position, he himself was in the right position and his presence of mind and some luck ensured that these set of pictures will go down as among the best set in my collection !!

For now, I will let you guys fill the dots and interpret what really happened.

Here is the slide show.

Or let me just tell you – I forgot to shake hands with my department head Jamie Carbonell. I went straight from taking the degree from Bob and was on my way to shake hands with Dean Randy Bryant, while I just realized what I was doing ! I then paused, took a step back and shook hands with Jamie. In the background Tom Mitchell looks on. The crowd sent a laughter track down as they saw what I was upto !

I later met Jamie and sort of sheepishly told him that was not my intention. He said that there was always something like this every year – last year someone forgot to receive the degree and just walked past the stage and the year before another person stumbled over his graduation gown. So, I did not do too bad then. Someone even told me that was funny and cute :-P.

The actual pictures are 10 MP resolution and one can zoom in to see the exact facial expressions on several faces in those 5 seconds on stage !

[ To Rajaram : man, best trivia ever ! ]

Incredible lifestyles May 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, life, weird.

Ram Charan, one of those incredible people I had never heard of.

Consider the itinerary he sketched at dinner one night a few months ago in New York. He had just agreed – for the first time in his career -to let a journalist travel with him and watch him work. “I should tell you where I’ve been the last few weeks,” he began in heavily accented English. “I go to India on the Friday of the week before Thanksgiving. I am Sunday morning in Bombay. Monday morning I am in Delhi. Wednesday I’m in Bombay. Thursday I’m in Bangalore. Saturday I’m in Trivandrum. Wednesday I’m in Johannesburg. Friday morning, at seven, I am in New York. I have a two-hour meeting with a CEO who has flown in to see me. I have two more meetings and I fly out that night to Dubai. I am in Dubai on Sunday and Monday, then I come back here. On Thursday night I fly out to Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Then I come back here. Tuesday morning I have a whole-day schedule in New York. Tuesday night I go to Milwaukee. I came from Milwaukee last night. They diverted my plane so I had to stay in Pittsburgh. I had a meeting this morning in Philadelphia. I had three meetings here in the afternoon. And I’m here tomorrow, with GE. Then an hour-and-a-half phone call. Then I’m going out tomorrow night to West Palm Beach. Monday morning I have a breakfast meeting in New York. And then I’m flying out to Perth, Australia.” At least he flies first-class.

Do read the entire article about other aspects of his life style ( he does not have a house/permanent address for example ).

Do I aspire for that kind of a lifestyle ? Will I enjoy that kind of a lifestyle ? Ofcourse, the answers both questions better be the same (both yes or both no), and in my case, that will be no. But yes, I certainly greatly admire special people like him. Our planet is such an interesting place. 😉

The “First Thought Right” way, modeling life. May 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, weird.
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Thought will cross-post from here.

When people talk of science taking on religion and vice versa, they are talking of two ways of approaching life’s problems. They are 2 different ways, so different that they often give completely contradictory descriptions and prescriptions. One of them is always verifiable as either right or wrong. The other cannot be verified as certainly wrong, but often can be verified as deviating from practical experience.

Let me now invent a 3rd way of thinking which says – “The answer to any question is the first hypothesis you think of”. This does not rely on any book – holy or unholy. It gives all the power to the man himself – the first ever possibility you think of is correct. Period.

I call this third way as FTR (First thought Rightism). You will dismiss me as a quack, get me driven out of my house and maybe have me killed. However, I ( or rather my handful of FTR ‘disciples’) then manage ( by preaching/war/deceitful PR campaigns etc. ) over a few 100 years to attract 10 million people to agree to this FTRism by claiming that afterall it goes give ‘answers’ to questions like : Who am I? What happens after death? What’s the purpose of it all? etc.

Infact, the way FTRism works it gives an answer to any question you ask ! When you point out that it does not explain electromagnetism FTR followers tell you that its not fair to compare science/religion/FTRism. They are 3 different ways of looking at life and that each have a role to play and are not at loggerheads.

Will you buy this ? Will you buy this even if you are told that on a yet undiscovered densely populated island in the Southern Pacific, there are 200 million FTRs ? Will you buy this if the number of FTRs increased to 1 billion in the next century ?

On a related note, somebody here is asking the question I have always wanted to.

Two Questions, fashion and Bollywood May 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, movies, weird.
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Question 1

With permission from Tyler Cowen, what is special about this piece of writing. ( either really easy given how I framed the question or too damn hard ) :

What about supply and purchasing? In my location — you can just call this city “Dar” — many Arabs add to urban culinary options. Spicy Sichuan food is also around, and Indian food is common. Why not? D falls downward to a rightward slant. Spicy food in Dar costs not so much. Transport of a spicy stuff or two costs virtually nothing. Call it proximity, or is “spatial” a good word too? “Marginal cost” also has not this bad sign, which again I must avoid in this blog post. So, marginal cost is low for this spicy stuff. Now, S can fly rightwards in an upward slant, almost flat, but low low low.

Answer here or even better HERE. There is a word for stuff like this.


Question 2

On whats special about the words – scraughed, scrinched, scritched, scrooched, sprainged, spreathed, throughed ? Answer here.


I don’t get fashion either

Once every while you come across an article you read in a newspaper that reads like you wrote it ! And once in a while I also come across an angry/disgruntled columnist writing about his/her disagreement with any subject/person. This time around, both these conditions are true of the same article.


How times change

From a book on Bollywood.

The book recalls how Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly known as Dadasaheb Phalke,the pioneer of Indian cinema had to struggle to find women actors for his first film and how even prostitutes he approached refused. The breakthrough came when Phalke discovered a young man by the name of Salunkhe, working as a cook in a restaurant who was to achieve an extraordinary feat of playing both male and female leads-Lord Rama and Sita in his movie. Salunkhe joined Phalke for a princely sum of Rs15 per month. Phalke was to make him India’s first super star, the book says.

An example of how in a matter of decades things change and cultural taboos fall by the wayside.


I was walking around in the local library today when it struck me that at least some of the books in the “religion” sub-section should be moved out of the non-fiction area to the fiction area 😉 Meanwhile, over to some exchanges last week on this ‘religion/god stuff’ over at Aswin’s blog.

Complicated, (yet) amusing solutions to life’s problems April 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, technology, weird.
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…even when simple ( and boring ) solutions exist.

Dance based authorization system : If you want to log in to your machine, no usernames/passwords/biometrics and such. You have to face an in-built camera on your computer and perform a certain dance. If the dance roughly matches your previously saved dance ( call it passdance ), then you are through. That way you don’t have to hide anything. Every day at work, you will see your colleagues ( they will see you ) getting off their seats to dance every once a while. ( especially they have a pass-dance protected windows machine ). Everyone has a good laugh and it also improves work environment and helps employees bond and in the long run increase employee productivity. This can also be extending to cars, so that people don’t clog Google searching for their car keys. 

Today’s computer vision technology is nowhere near making it possible. But if and when it can, there should be a startup somewhere with the corporate motto – “Lets make life complicated, yet amusing” – and taking on established, but boring companies.

Ofcourse, over time you get used to people dancing all over the place and the amusement is lost. But that not deter the pursuit of amusement in the first place.  Other suggestions to make life “complicated, yet amusing” are welcome.

Whats in a (last) name ? April 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, sport, weird.

My questions get more and more general as you go down each paragraph ?

What is the probability that a cricketer is better known by his first name than his last name ? In other words (and taking a frequentist view of probability), of all the cricketers you can think of, how many are referred to by their first names instead than last ? ( Forget about people known by their complete names for once – like the Waugh twins). Why is it disproportionately skewed towards last name ? ( Arguing that it is what is written on their shirts ( do they ??) is not an answer – you would have to say why do they choose to do that ( if they do so ). Is it because their last names are more rarer than their first names – ( Rahul/Sachin ) ? Not a compelling argument. Is it true of other sports as well ?

Arguably full names seem the norm applied to Bollywood stars. Why ? Is it because the damn place reeks of in-breeding and nepotism to such an extent that that if you just say “Kapoor”, it could refer to a person or her/his son/spouse/daughter/dad/mom/uncles/aunts/grandparents?

How about celebrities in general ? Politicians ?

What about your friends ? How do you predominantly refer to them in conversations with third parties ( other friends ) ?

Why do people have first and last names at all ( sometimes they have 6/7 – check this guy ) – to decrease the probability that 2 people have the exact same name ? Show respect/affiliation towards city/town/dad/mom ? Why not country ? Is it because the idea of a country is itself so new whereas the sense of belonging towards smaller community is so much older ?

I want answers to all these questions right now ! 😀 ( because the last time I asked Sandeep Shetty about this cricketer’s names, he just said that I am weird providing no anecdotal/empirical evidence to prove his ‘claim’ 😉 )

That thing called sleep ! April 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, life, weird.

Looking at a person can you say whether he has had too much sleep or perhaps too less of it. I stayed awake for some 35 hours at a stretch and then slept for 17 hours at a stretch. When I came to the lab in the afternoon with 17 hours of sleep behind me, the question still was – “Good morning, looks like you did not have enough sleep.” 😉

I wrote something on this before but what happens when you spend a complete day, as in 0000 hours to 2359 hours sleeping, must be a weird sense of loss. 😀 Lets say we start a rumor that says that people only age as long as they are awake. More and more women becoming less and less ‘career-oriented’ (preferring to sleep instead), which appears to be the euphemism used in matrimonial ads to suggest that “I would love to work/not work post marriage” or that “I see someone who is willing to work/not work”. You would probably see more and more and more middle-aged/20 somethings people calling in sick at work. And more and more kids less than 10-12 years waking up all night. There is some point in time where the millions who are flattered when misunderstood as being older switch to feeling devastated about it. Weird humanity in our midst. 🙂

“Yeah, I felt it” March 29, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, weird.
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Here are Top 10 April Fool’s Day hoaxes. Sample this one :

Noted British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on the radio in 1976 that at 9:47 am, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event, in which Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, would cause a gravitational alignment that would reduce the Earth’s gravity. Moore told listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment of the planetary alignment, they would experience a floating sensation.

And then :

Hundreds of people called in to report feeling the sensation.

On this Earth, we are in stupid-er company than we think 🙂

Assorted links today March 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, history, india, weird.
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Imagine your brother at your door, with half of his house with him.


An exciting video about the Nazi attempt to steal art worth millions and how museums at Paris, Rome, St. Petersburgh moved around/hidden from the Nazis. Also where was the Mona Lisa during the war ?


An evidence of what is nuts about our education system. Blame is to be shared by people who do stupid things and those that incentivise stupidity.


Mint has started a series called Sixty at Sixty.

Sixty in Sixty is a special series that we plan to run through 2007, the 60th anniversary of India’s independence. We will introduce you to sixty Indians—both here and abroad—who are not rich or famous. These are people who are making quiet, but important, contributions without seeking headlines, to help make India and, in some cases, the world a better place.

Good idea I think.

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.

Back with a redeemed laptop reloaded with an operating system which in this case happens to be WinXP Home edition that I am told is slower than the professional edition even as I try to see the longest post title I can have without using the backspace key while still making sense enough to be readable to a handful of blogreaders who might be using their office/home/leisure time to catch up with some random stuff on this blog that was created on Feb 25th, 2006 which makes it a little more than 1 year as of today which happens to be March 17th, 2007, a day that also reminds me of something silly that happened 13 years ago in Brahmavar which happens to be where my school is located. March 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, weird.

I am sorry, that just happened midway through writing the title for this post. I gave up because I started to experience fatigue 😦

WordPress, I lose. What is the maximum number of words in a post-title anyway ?

Google and Uma Bharati February 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, technology, weird.

The “ad” you see below is NOT an advertisement.

Its an image and is used here because this post is about Google ads.


Over an year ago in Dec 2005, I read an article by Vir Sanghvi that was about Uma Bharati’s life, around the time she was on the way towards being kicked out of BJP or so. When I finished reading the article, the ads from Google at the bottom caught my eyes. I generally don’t notice these ads, far from clicking on them and so its clear from Google’s revenue that they can do without people like me. But this was strange and I had the good sense to save that page. Here are the ads.

Okay, its not completely out of place because the article talked about Uma Bharati’s failed affair with Govindacharya in these terms:

When she began to discover her emotions, her rivals in the Madhya Pradesh BJP spread the foulest and most vicious stories about her character. Her relationship with Govindacharya became the subject of scandalous gossip and, ultimately, she was driven to such deep despair that she considered giving it all up.

Yeah, I know – why blame google when Vir Sanghvi is the real curlprit 😀 . Later Vir Sanghvi says :

Meanwhile, we in the media (and as somebody who has been sued for libel by Uma in the past, I don’t think I can exclude myself from this category) did our bit. We called her the sexy sanyasin’. We focused on her gender and her love life to the exclusion of her politics.

So you see, not very surprising because Google uses the linguistic content ( words ) to automatically decide what ads go on to what page. But somehow any follower of Indian politics would find these ads out of place. No, I am not saying they are offensive, just saying they are amusing !This inspite of the fact that in the same article Vir Sanghvi writes :

She emerged from that phase as a sanyasin, having been forced to abandon her last chance at living some kind of normal life.

Now imagine ads that are inviting people to explore a prospective alliance with a “beautiful, hindu, single” sanyasin. But then current technology has not got to a stage where it can use common sense to rule out certain ads. Ofcourse, folks at Google might still argue that if not Uma Bharati, atleast Govindacharya is “beautiful, hindu, single” non-sanyasi 😉 . But lets keep that question aside.

It was now natural to check out what ads are present on the same page right now because ads change depending on several factors. It turns out there are no ads from Google on that page. Why ? Is it because Google no longer considers Uma Bharati “beautiful, hindu and single” enough ? 🙂 Or that she doesn’t read the Gita !

Or is it the more natural reason that people hosting these ads ask google not to put it on a year old page where normal people are unlikely to see it. But I am worried why the Bajrang Dal and VHP haven’t taken this issue up with Google. 😉

Self-experimentation February 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, ideas, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, weird.

Now this is interesting – self-experimentation stuff. More commendable than my own gimmicks 🙂 about life sans google.

Anyway, this is the deal :

John D. Freyer decided to sell everything he owns — yes everything — on ebay. Stage two is to visit those objects in people’s homes around the country and record their tales. Stage three is to publish this book.

I will not tell you where I read this because I promised not to link to economics blogs ! 😀 On the other hand, I will do so in the interest of providing intellectual stimulation to my readers. Here you go – read the whole post. This man is the pioneer of self-experimentation.

Reminds me of my earliest experience of having deprived myself of something – sort of self-experimentation. Apparently, I used to be so talkative about 11 years ago that my friend Dr. Shaimaa Munir ( I want to link to her on Orkut, but I can’t – you know why ) placed a bet on Aug 25th, 1996 that I can’t go without 2 minutes of keeping my mouth shut. More than accepting the challenge, I offered to do so for one whole day in class, i.e. inside the classroom.

The terms were that I can only shout out my attendance – once in the morning and then in the afternoon. Within the classroom, I should not even speak out to tell people why I was not supposed to talk. No, I was not even supposed to write or convey in any way that this was a bet. Ofcourse she could not monitor me all the time or even half the time, but we were reasonable and had an understanding that I would be honest. We exchanged several glances – mostly her effort to tease me about my sorry state etc. But it turned out I managed to do keep my mouth shut and didn’t lose the bet. Now, I don’t remember what the bet was about – i.e. if I got something for the immense sacrifice. I am not sure though if my classmates remember this event – another indication that I wasn’t as talkative in the first place. ( as some of you are given to think I was ).

A balancing act is in order – time for a failed mission to temper the above :

In Class XI, late 1997, my classmate Supreeth and I decided that for one whole day, we would exchange our names !! I would respond if someone called him out and vice-versa. The idea was not just to get ourselves used to each others’ names but also to get others to address us by our new names. The exception again was the when the teacher is involved. Yeah, I know this is chickening out but it added an extra layer of complexity to the whole thing. The person who blinked first lost the bet.

This didnt last any more than an hour. We agreed to call it off. I dont know if he remembers it, but he is coming over this weekend and I am going to have a discussion of this on our agenda :-).

[ And may I ask what is one of weird things you did 😀 ]

Living sans Google February 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in technology, weird.

My computer is (nearly) google-free for the next 1 month.

I went a step ahead from my last post and am trying to see what life without google is like. So everything gone – talk, accelerator, notebook, reader, toolbar, picasa. Gmail is forwarded to non-google accounts. ( It still means I use them but I have never used gmail extensively anyway). I have substitutes for most of them. The one big problem though is orkut and such applications where the ties are stronger due to the very nature of the service. If I have to try out the really google free world, I would have to convince others to do so. The same goes for the fact that I have honor/read/reply to mails that come to my yahoo account from (others’ ) gmail accounts. So am I making an exception for Orkut ? No, I am not. Check my orkut profile. Youtube is another difficult thing.

That apart, how do I really measure my discomfort, if any, of living in the google-free universe ? Blood pressure perhaps. That an expensive affair. Alternative suggestions welcome. Meanwhile, at different stages in the next month, if and when I find something compelling to return to google services, I will make a note on the blog.

Coming to the question of why. This is experiment I would love to ( and have attempted with different levels of success failure ) do with pretty much anything – depriving myself of certain phone calls and conversations, food items etc. It is not a principled stand against google – my substitutes are not necessarily from MS or Yahoo. And finally, it is certainly not done to please a certain non-existent divine superpower nor any existent superpower 🙂

I only hope google, in an apparent personal battle over this blogger, desists from taking Microsoft, Yahoo and Wikipedia in the next one  month.  I will be left with linux and my Carnegie mellon email account then.

As I say in my orkut profile :

In an arguably misguided attempt to experiment living in a google-free world for the next 1 month, I am out of Orkut.

Happy SAD ! February 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, weird.
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In dedication to, commemoration, celebration , affirmation, clarification, observation, sanctification, condemnation, recognition of my 25 26 25.5 year long, short, tedium, medium uninterrupted, single status  🙂

“Taken to task” of the day February 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, weird.
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I have never used this title for a post before.Hmm, maybe never again.I am using this post to merely convey how sometimes you are taken to task in a half-serious sort of manner.Do you seriously find something weird about this paragraph yet?You should.

Okay, so here goes a comment by one Mr. GVV on one of the posts on MR about how blogging helps bloggers :

Getting more and more new ideas from blogging.In Greg Mankiw’s blog, I commented that in India snob and bandwagon effects can very well co-exist because of joint families and homogenous groups living without interaction.If I make it in the form of a model,Iam sure, no journal would publish it.Blogging gives freedom to invent ideas and to share the empirics of everyday living.

Look at a follow up comment :

GVV: Blogs also give space for novel punctuation schemes.Like this one,right?

Go to para 1 of this post. You get my point, dontya 🙂

Interesting things today February 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, weird.
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1. About selling off the Central Park ( that sits in the middle of Manhattan ) to make money :

But even if the city needed the money, it might not want to sell off its giant patch-of-green-amidst-the-concrete. Real estate pundit Jonathan Miller writes “the net value of all of Manhattan would be less after Central Park was developed.” And this article from the electronic journal “Planning & Markets” states: “…the city council keeps Manhattan’s Central Park unbuilt not because Greens rule the Big Apple, but because property values overall are higher with the park than with luxury condos (apartments) on the site.”

From here.

2. A new kind of restaurant.

When you’re at the “Terra Bite Lounge,” you pay whatever you feel like: from nothing at all to 40 bucks or whatever else you want to put into the metal lock box.

Its like astrologers and palmists that I have heard of who have the same ‘Terms of service’. 🙂

3. A video on how the internet has changed (itself) and so much else.

4. Feuds in the cricket field. This one and this one (more funny 🙂 ).

Botham was promoted to No.4 with the aim of quick runs – and also with a specific order from Bob Willis, the vice-captain: “Go and run the bugger out.” Given the mental state of the tour party, it was a sentiment that probably echoed what they were all feeling.

Botham’s first job was to let Chatfield know what he thought of his behaviour, and he then walked on to meet Boycott, who told him how he was struggling. Botham smiled and told him not to worry, and that he would sort it.

After 20 minutes the chance came. Botham called for the most improbable of singles, and by the time a bemused Boycott realised what was happening it was too late and Botham had run past him before he could regain his ground at the non-striker’s end. “He never stood a chance,” admitted Botham. “What have you done, what have you done,” Boycott muttered as it dawned on him he was out. Botham’s unprintable response has gone down in folklore.

verus Random chance February 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in science, videos, weird.

Before you go on, spot the odd thing in the picture ?

The next time someone tells you she/he has the power to do something exceptionally well, something that defies common observation and knowledge, be skeptical. Ask yourself what do you expect by mere random chance. To explain what I mean, here is something from my comment to the previous post :

You have to count misses as well, not just hits. Not just when you get it right, but also how often you get it wrong. That is the most important thing.

For eg : Lets say you play you the sound of a car passing by and ask me to guess what color of the car is. Now the sound of a car doesnt possibly depend on its color – we know this from common experience. But lets say I assert that I have a certain supernatural power that enables me to tell the color from the sound. And lets say after a round of guessing 100 sounds, I get it right 50 times. Now if the cars come in only 2 possible colors – red and green ( equally likely) – anyone with no power can get it right 50 times because that is what you expect by chance !! In the worst case, I can just keep saying “Red..red..red” and I will still be right about 50 times.

So unless someone can get it right say 75-80% of the times consistently, I will not consider it as a significant result.

And this I think is one of the most critical things missing from scientific curriculum – how to design experiments, measure variables and handle experimental evidence to arrive at a conclusion or to accept/dispute an existing conclusion. And a society that does not teach this fails to a large extent in instilling any critical reasoning in students. Look here for a video of how specialist doctors make catastrophic mistakes because they aren’t taught to reason about experimental data.

Videos on paranormal stuff here, here and here. And check this out for regular dose of reality check.

Funniest line today ! February 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, weird.

PEAR is a lab at Princeton that for the last 30 years has studied paranormal phenomenon. And is now closing down.

Analyzing data from such trials, the PEAR team concluded that people could alter the behavior of these machines very slightly, changing about 2 or 3 flips out of 10,000. If the human mind could alter the behavior of such a machine, Dr. Jahn argued, then thought could bring about changes in many other areas of life — helping to heal disease, for instance, in oneself and others.

This kind of talk fascinated the public and attracted the curiosity of dozens of students, at Princeton and elsewhere. But it left most scientists cold. A physics Ph.D. and an electrical engineer joined Dr. Jahn’s project, but none of the university’s 700 or so professors did. Prominent research journals declined to accept papers from PEAR. One editor famously told Dr. Jahn that he would consider a paper “if you can telepathically communicate it to me.”

A picture is worth 772 words February 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, life, weird.
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The picture that you see at the top this of page ( and appears in full in the thumbnail below ) was shot on Sunday, Dec 18th, 2005 in my lab here at CMU. I often sit in my lab ( thumbnail above ) which doors closed, tubelights off and the table lamp on. My officemates are often away and certainly so during weekends. I remember as I sat down with the table lamp on, the reflection of the yellow light cast an interesting pattern on the book shelf that contains more books on topics other than my broad area of research ( Statistical NLP ). And that was a time when I carried my camera with my pretty much most of the time and this picture came out quite well.


Here is a note on the books that appear in the picture :

There is the book by the one of American experts on the sub-continent Stanley Wolpert “India” printed in the 60s. Read most of it.

“Cultural literacy” is a book on American culture that the author thought “every American should know to function in contemporary society”. I bought the book for $1 and haven’t read it yet.

Modern Times : Is a comprehensive overview of world history, a book that I took on my travel to India two days after the picture was shot. When Rajaram asked me to lend him this book, after a whole lot of fuss I gave him while telling him that I was meaning to give him the book anyway. I later recanted my statement. And recanted again. And again. I don’t remember what my last position ( or his last opinion ) was. :-).

Albert Einstein : A book on his life and times. Not read yet.

Piece work : A book by Pete Hamill about “Men and Women, Fools and Heroes, Lost Cities, Vanished Friends, Small Pleasures, Large Calamities, and How the Weather Was.” I read one of the essays sitting on my luggage at the Pittsburgh bus station ( Dec 20th ) waiting for my bus to NYC. And read a few other essays on the upper berth of the train from Bombay to Udupi – Dec 25th.

The original image

Switching to the end, the well-known Freedom at midnight, on the birth of India. American Mind about the birth and values of America. The somewhat unclear title is “Our times” – a set of essays which are in fact articles from American newspapers from the 60s on. Next two books are on Computer Science and Natural Langauge Processing. “Dancing naked in the mind field” is a book by a Nobel Physicist about the joys of physics.

The only book whose title you can’t see – is a book containing essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I remember reading his essays on compensation, friendship and self-reliance ( brilliant of them all ) in 1996 when I came across some of his quotes. I picked that up but haven’t read much since.

“Thinking economically” – a book on economics in everyday life. “The Tipping Point” – I now think it is over-rated. I bought it on June 1st, 2005 for a reason – I consider that in some sense one of the tipping points in my life. “Bridges to infinity” is a book on the beauty of mathematics.

The book in the middle “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” is weird. And its presence among the many other book an irony in itself !!

~~ ~~~

Now this is the best part. I would love to get a picture of that shelf as it looks now, but since I dont have a camera, I will write this anyway.

“India” and “Cultural Literacy” are in the same relative position – next to each other. More surprisingly, “The Tipping Point” , “Bridges to infinity” and “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” are next to one another. After about an year and 2 months, they are still there. In this period, I have been coming to the lab 9.5 out of 10 days (!!), have bought so many books that went into this shelf and so many that I had to move home because of lack of space. Inspite of it all, these 5 books are right there, where they had been over an year ago. Something surreal about it !

The more weird part – When I shot the picture, I never thought it would be sitting in my blog up here. Nor did I think that I would write a 772 word long half- pointless post about it.

The thin line … February 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, weird.
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I was at a talk today given by an Principal Engineer from Amazon. I was working on my machinee as the audience waiting for him to start. I was sitting at the back of the hall as I usually prefer and so when he started speaking, I realized he wasn’t quite audible.

I increased the volume on my PC. And for the next second or so, I was frustrated that it did not help.

There is already a thin line between the real world and the virtual.


In the meanwhile, the funniest cover page off late.


Funniest video AD in a while. ( On the I-Phone )


Profound sentences today January 29, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, politics, sport, weird.
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Profound for the embedded warning therein :

It took some time for us to see the situation as it really had been. I didn’t know what was at the root of Anna’s rebellion, and perhaps I’ll never know. But I do recognize that we failed in how we were only able to see the part of her that was reacting to us, not the child who was growing up much too quickly and was still terribly afraid. I could not admit until much later that no matter how understanding I claimed to be, I had behaved as though Anna were my surrogate, her behavior a reflection of my parenting skills, her beliefs a mirror of my ideals, her goals a product of my ambition.

I may have said that I wished to set her free, but it was always my agenda that I hoped she would follow, my efforts as a father she would eventually acknowledge and admire. I had avoided repeating the mistakes of my father, but I had made different ones.

Profound for the ‘wow’ness it inspires, in me at the least :).

Perhaps the difference that most fundamentally separates true liberals and libertarians from others is that, to one degree or another, true liberals and libertarians are, unlike non-liberals and libertarians, dutiful sons and daughters of the Scottish Enlightenment. And one of the great lessons of that remarkable intellectual movement is the refinement of the understanding that state and society are not the same thing. Society is not created by the state, and the state’s activities not only do not define those of society but often diminish society’s activities.

Profound for the absurdly funny nature of the exchange

Anuradha SenGupta: Hershelle Gibbs’s comments about the Pakistanis which could have been racist; Dean Jones’ inadvertent, off-the-cuff remark which is again not very pleasant—do you think we are being too politically correct, all of us. I mean what’s wrong if I say ‘You bloody Aussie’ once in a while, is that okay to say?

Greg Chappell: Absolutely, it’s not true, you can say that.

Profound for how wrong things can go, inspite of best intentions

Robinson left England more than a year ago to trace the ancient Tea Caravan trail with a group of Tibetans from the Chinese mainland to Lhasa in Tibet. He began his journey with a pair of horses through the oxygen-sapped, often icy terrain, his family said. He strayed into Indian territory when one of his horses fell ill and another became pregnant.

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police spotted the bedraggled Robinson — physically-drained and hungry — with his horses near Mana in October last year and took him into custody.

Unintended experiments ( and non-existent results ) in quasi-isolation January 5, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, weird.

The last week has been one weird time, well, few weird times.

Starting last Thursday, Dec 28th until today Jan 5th, I went out of my house only twice. Once for a period of 1 hour to the shopping mall to buy some medication on Dec 31st night ( I cut my finger along with the cabbage ) and the second time to return library books that were accruing fines. I stay alone in a 1 BR apartment, so that means rare personal contact with human beings. The 7 days I spent mostly eating cereal ( cornflakes ), occasional curry and dal ( dalitoy, if you know what I mean ), drinking lemon juice/coffee/tea. My kitchen/drawing room ( kitchen is built into the drawing room ) is strewn with empty cereal packets. There was no rice at home and I didnt care to buy any. The way its going, if I buy any more rice, I will have to buy trousers as well.

I got up around 1 pm, did random things like reading stuff online/mail etc. until about 4 pm, then went to bed after working until 6 am the next morning. I am reasonably happy with the amount of effort put in, though not quite happy with the results. Ofcourse, working includes keeping tab on email/orkut scraps/Ashes and India-SA cricket scores on cricinfo i.e. watching the textual version of the match. and ofcourse answering phone calls if any. The weather ofcourse was dull most of the time, little sunlight, cold – not bitter cold – but just cold and no snow.

None of this was ofcourse intended. Nor is this a desirable state of existence. I am no misanthropist and love the company of a handful of people which is not the same as saying there are only a handful of people I love the company of. ( though it comes close 😉 ). I am no Seth Roberts and made no measurements on myself to see the effect of these weird schedules on any conceivable factors. These are simply things that one can more easily afford to do as – a) non-corporate employee. and b) bachelor. One cant do it on real vacation either. These are days when I am supposed to be working, though I dont have to attend classes or be at the lab to work.

Could I do this without the internet ? Conceivably, no. Actually its hard to conceive, so I take the short-cut and just say No. Its not just about reading something for which the books should substitute. I cant buy anymore books without buying a cupboard to hold them. But I guess they have stopped making cupboards to keep books that one buys not because you would love to read them, but because you love the idea of reading them. While I make merry reading stuff online, my books will await me to revert to the state where I turn pages lying down on the floor by the corner lamp. Until then, its Alt+N and Ctrl+D.

Sometime in 1999-2000 at the KREC library, I came across this magazine called Resonance, something I got hooked to for the rest of my entire KREC life until May 2003. I remember reading an article that talked about experiments in human isolation. I found the archived issues of this magazine but google site search would still not help me retrieve it. ( I should track their articles more often. I remember even Deepak Krishnan thinks very highly of it – remember reading that somewhere on his blog. ). Nevertheless, this gives you an idea. Ofcourse, my situation was nowhere close to this – neither in motivation/intention nor in execution. I mention this just for the intellectually naughtier ones. 🙂

Researchers of the Department of Animal Behaviour and Physiology (DAB&P) at the Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, Tamilnadu are trying to find out. In an experiment the scientists have roped in a group of volunteers and placed them in what is called the Human Isolation Chamber (HIC). The chamber is devoid of all kinds of physical time-keepers. The chamber which has twin-wall system is fully air-conditioned. The subjects cannot directly interact with the people outside but are provided with almost all basic amenities like tables, chairs, cots, kitchen ware, VCD & music players, books etc. The volunteers have to cook their own food and the required materials for the cooking including vegetables, groceries and vessels are given to them. Researchers outside monitor the activities of the subjects as regards their body temperature, sleep-wake cycle etc at regular intervals.

Observations over a period of one to two weeks revealed that the subjects inside drift from the normal 24-hour daily cycle, and begin to work within the chamber according to the dictates of their ‘biological clock’. For example when people outside go to bed at night, people inside may be having a cup of coffee. They also found that the duration of sleep began to vary. Out of the sixteen chosen volunteers there was one woman who slept straight for more than twenty hours.

Nevertheless, at a much less stringent level, for those 6 days, the only windown in the drawing room which overlooks a not-so-busy street and a 24 hour convenience store just across the road was literally my only window to the world.

That is, if you dont count the computer that would be switched on, logged on for all but 8 hours a day.

Putting IPOD to (better) use January 5, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, media, videos, weird.
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…crush it to bits, possibly paste and then use it to sell another electric appliance.

Yeah, read it to believe it. Unbelievable.

It’s a series of online videos meant to promote a commercial kitchen blender from a company in Utah. In each episode, a stiff but hilariously dry spokesman demonstrates the power of the blender by liquefying something you wouldn’t ordinarily expect a blender to handle: Hot Wheels cars, cellphones, Barbie dolls, a garden rake, an iPod, golf balls, a can of soup (including the can), a bottle of beer (with bottle), marbles, and so on.

Okay, watch it to believe it.

Train non-accidents January 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in videos, weird.
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Moral of the story : The Shatabdi Express is fast indeed. [ Courtesy : Sanjika ]

Meanwhile, here is another story.

Ooops December 29, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, science, weird.
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inspiring indeed.

Over the next 14 years, Karnazes challenged almost every known endurance running limit. He covered 350 miles without sleeping. (It took more than three days.) He ran the first and only marathon to the South Pole (finishing second), and a few months ago, at age 44, he completed 50 marathons in 50 consecutive days, one in each of the 50 states. (The last one was in New York City. After that, he decided to run home to San Francisco.) Karnazes’ transformation from a tequila-sodden party animal into an international symbol of human achievement is as educational as it is inspirational. Here’s his advice for pushing athletic performance from the unthinkable to the untouchable.

On accidents, chaos, taste and the Middle-east December 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, geo-politics, statistics, weird.
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1. Have a hard time believing studies like this.

The study, which looked at 100,000 North American drivers’ records from the past six years, puts Libras (born September 23-October 22) followed by Aquarians (January 20-February 18) as the worst offenders for tickets and accidents.

Not because I am a libran and happen to be an exception to the above, but because there has to be some reason for the these patterns to turn out.

2. And whats this now.

IT is a truism of American life that we’re too darn messy, or we think we are, and we feel really bad about it. Our desks and dining room tables are awash with paper; our closets are bursting with clothes and sports equipment and old files; our laundry areas boil; our basements and garages seethe. And so do our partners — or our parents, if we happen to be teenagers.

This is why sales of home-organizing products, like accordion files and labelmakers and plastic tubs, keep going up and up, from $5.9 billion last year to a projected $7.6 billion by 2009, as do the revenues of companies that make closet organizing systems, an industry that is pulling in $3 billion a year, according to Closets magazine.

I not only cant believe that home-organizing products is a $ 7.6 billion industry but also that this article that talks about – an anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds, and that messy closet owners are probably better parents than their tidier counterparts in response elicits so many comments from people talking about how organized (or not) they are.

The best one ofcourse is someone who reads about the merits of chaos and comments

Thanks. There goes my New Year’s resolution. Please tell my wife.

3. Whats really new about his study ?

Dr. Lee said that the study showed that the experience of taste involved not only the sensation of a blend of ingredients, but also the “top-down” influence of expectations. Previous research with brain imaging had shown that expectations could change the
trace of activity of people’s brains when tasting drinks.

Parents of young children know this instinctively. When giving him cod liver oil as a nutritional supplement, Dr. Lee said, his mother called it “syrup.” In the spirit of blind testing, other parents choose not to create any bias at all. They answer, “What’s in this?” with, “Just try it, you’ll like it.”

Yes, my dad did exactly that, albeit less successfully because anything I eat must pass the smell test. I dont eat anything new without first smelling it – solid, liquid, paste, dry, whatever be it.

4. Wow, this is exactly what Sadiq and I were discussing the other day.

Many people write as if the sectarian warfare in Iraq was caused by coalition intervention. But it is surely obvious that the struggle for mastery has been going on for some time and was only masked by the apparently iron unity imposed under Baathist rule. That rule was itself the dictatorship of a tribal Tikriti minority of the Sunni minority and constituted a veneer over the divisions beneath, as well as an incitement to their perpetuation. The Kurds had already withdrawn themselves from this divide-and-rule system by the time the coalition forces arrived, while Shiite grievances against the state were decades old and had been hugely intensified by Saddam’s cruelty. Nothing was going to stop their explosion, and if Saddam Hussein’s regime had been permitted to run its course and to devolve (if one can use such a mild expression) into the successorship of Udai and Qusai, the resulting detonation would have been even more vicious.

The concept of a nation state is new to the middle-east where the borders are quite arbitrary -too coarse when they should be much finer. Those borders are anything but natural – as in countries within Europe or states within India. Lot of blood will be spilt and a few million will be dead and it will be decades before we see stable democratic nation-states in that part of the world.

Read this article on how Arabs are really really different from the west or even for the matter the east.

"This word is rather tasty" ! November 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in science, weird.
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The nature and extent of diversity – especially in the number of ways things can go wrong – never ceases to amaze me.

Lexical-gustatories involuntarily “taste” words when they hear them, or even try to recall them, she wrote in a study, “Words on the Tip of the Tongue,” published in the issue of Nature dated Thursday. She has found only 10 such people in Europe and the United States. One subject, Dr. Simner said, hates driving, because the road signs flood his mouth with everything from pistachio ice cream to ear wax. For example, the word “mince” makes one subject taste mincemeat, but so do rhymes like “prince.” Words with a soft “g,” as in “roger” or “edge,” make him taste sausage. But another subject, hearing “castanets,” tastes tuna fish. Another can taste only proper names: John is his cornbread, William his potatoes.

Read the complete article (again) if you dont the above. This is really weird.

Weird, really weird October 8, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, weird.
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I dont think a new blog could possibly have a more weird beginnning. Need help uploading pics !! Hmm…

And to add to it, could it be stranger that a person who doesnt know you links to your first post within minutes of its posting ?

Update : Oops, actually that is the second post. The first one is more reasonable.

What I work on. August 15, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, weird.
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That, that people is complete path of a single file that I am working with. I grow old reading them, working with them, distinguishing between something like




on my 14″ laptop monitor.

Yeah, yeah, I know the string is going out of the screen and you sort of have to walk a few steps to reach the end of it ;). I have retained that setting to not mitigate the effect and therefore, not discourage you from feeling your sympathies for me.

Friends ask me about what work on for my Masters research and somehow I rarely end up speaking too much about it. This post is one of the most inelegant, ineffective but true in a raw sort of a way to compensate those unanswered questions ! There might be more important things in life, dont you think 😉 Or maybe smarter ways to rename files and structure data if only I could spend more time on it.

Back to work ;). Here I come my dear filename, your bear…uuh….serpentine hug have never been more uncomfortably famililar !

Quote of the day May 24, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in littlerockers, weird.
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“What man, there are hardly any sane people left in this world man now ! ”

– Sadiq Shaik Sherieef, 5:58 PM (EST) , May 24, 2006, Bangalore

Umpteenth time May 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in weird.

My life is so messy, I am so indisciplined, inefficient and unproductive that I cant find time to elaborate ( for now atleast ) ! Help !