We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why Competing For Tenure Is Like Trying To Become a Drug Lord

I came across this interesting article (courtesy slashdot.org) on how tough the job market in Academia is. Comments and discussions by readers offers some good points too. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Solar Engineers - Barefoot college

In Rajasthan, India, an extraordinary school teaches rural women and men -- many of them illiterate -- to become solar engineers, artisans, dentists and doctors in their own villages. It's called the Barefoot College, and its founder, Bunker Roy, explains how it works and the five non negotiable values.

A talk by Bunker Roy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Introduction to Linux kernel programming

I was delighted to get an email on the Linux kernel newbies mailing list about a new course work on "Introduction to Linux Kernel Programming". 

It brought back memories from good old engineering days when I was desperately trying to get my hands dirty on Linux kernel programming. It was a hot topic amongst ambitious engineering graduates (I believe it is still). 

There is also a famous book by OReilly on the same. However, this course gives the necessary material required for getting started in Kernel programming, in a more better manner I think. 

More here.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

An interesting book collection

(This is a re-post from 2011)

Towards the end of 2011 I stumbled upon Harward's systems research lab and was curious to know about Indian grad students there. There was only a single student. Son of Mr. Narayan Murty (Infosys). Rohan Murty. I felt curious about the collection of books he had read since 2005. And here it is. 

I had always had this problem about finding a good source of books to read from a reliable source. This list made me extremely happy.

Men of Mathematics - E.T. Bell (5/5)

1984 - George Orwell (5/5)

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan - Robert Kanigel (5/5)

Masters of Doom : How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture - David Kushner (5/5)

Fermat's Last Theorem - Simon Singh (5/5)

e: The Story of a Number - Eli Maor (5/5)

A Mathematician's Apology - G. H. Hardy (4/5)

Chaos: Making a New Science - James Gleick (3/5)

'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' (Adventures of a Curious Character) - Richard P. Feynman, Ralph Leighton, Edward Hutchings and Albert R. Hibbs (5/5)

What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character - Richard P. Feynman, Ralph Leighton (4/5)

Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory and the Puzzle of the Bomb - William Poundstone (3/5)

Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From The Beaten Track: The Letters Of Richard P. Feynman - Timothy Ferris (5/5)

Genius : The Life and Science of Richard Feynman - James Gleick (3/5)

Trigonometric Delights - Eli Maor (3/5)

The Hilbert Challenge - Jeremy Gray (3/5)

No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman - Richard P. Feynman (3/5)

Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics - George Johnson (4/5)

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman - Richard P. Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (2/5)

Feynman Lectures on Computation (2/5)

Six Easy Pieces, Six Not-So-Easy Pieces - Richard P. Feynman (4/5)

Six Easy Pieces - Richard P. Feynman (5/5)

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas Hofstadter (4/5)

Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun - David L. Goodstein, Judith R. Goodstein and Richard Phillips Feynman (2/5)

Strange Brains and Genius : The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen - Clifford A. Pickover - 2002 (2/5)

The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics - Marcus du Sautoy (4/5)

To Infinity and Beyond: A Cultural History of the Infinite - Eli Maor (4/5)

Interactions : A Journey Through the Mind of a Particle Physicist - Sheldon Glashow and Ben Bova (3/5)

Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey - Ralph Leighton - 2003 (2/5)

Selfish Routing and the Price of Anarchy - Tim Roughgarden (5/5)

Universities and Their Leadership - Bowen and Shapiro (Editors) - 2004 (5/5)

The Evolution of Cooperation - Robert Axelrod - 2005 (3/5)

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins (4/5)

Einstein: The Life and Times - Ronald Clark (3/5)

Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos - Steven Strogatz (4/5)

The Creation of the Future: The Role of the American University - Frank Rhodes - 2005 (5/5)

Emergence: From Chaos to Order - John H. Holland - 2005 (2/5)

Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond (3/5)

God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History - Stephen Hawking (2/5)

Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason - Charles Freeman - 2006 (5/5)

Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World - Stephen O'Shea - 2006 (4/5)

A Short History of Byzantium - John Julius Norwich - 2006 (4/5)

Byzantium: The Early Centuries - John Julius Norwich (5/5)

Byzantium: The Apogee - John Julius Norwhich (4/5)

Byzantium: The Decline and Fall - John Julius Norwhich (4/5)

For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery - Rodney Stark (3/5)

The Physics of Superheroes - James Kakalios (4/5)

One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism - Rodney Stark (3/5)

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed - Jared Diamond (1/5)

Behavioural Game Theory: Experiments in strategic interactions - Colin Camerer (3/5)

A Beautiful Mind - Slyvia Nassar (4/5)

Complete Yes Prime Minister - Jonathan Lynn and Anthony Jay (5/5)

Choice and Consequence - Thomas C. Schelling (3/5)

Readings in Political Economy - Kaushik Basu (3/5)

The Book of the Courtier - Baldesar Castiglione (3/5)

Rationality and Freedom - Amartya Sen (2/5)

Fate Is the Hunter - Ernest K. Gann (4/5)

Great Feuds in Mathematics - Hellman (4/5)

Constantine and the Conversion of Europe - Jones (3/5)

Becoming Charlemagne - Jeff Sypeck (4/5)

Moral Minds - Marc Hauser (4/5)

A Man Without a Country - Kurt Vonnegut (5/5)

Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine - Lenski (3/5)

The Story of Philosophy - Will Durant (5/5)

An Introduction to Political Philosophy - Wolff (5/5)

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins (3/5)

Letter to a Christian Nation - Sam Harris (3/5)

Lord Chesterfield's Letters - Lord Chesterfield (3/5)

American Prometheus - The Triumph and Tragedy of Robert J. Oppenheimer - Bird and Sherwin (4/5)

The Grapes of Wrath - Steinbeck (5/5)

The Moral Consequences of Economic Freedom - Friedman (5/5)

A History of Civilizations - Braudel (3/5)

Among the Believers - Naipaul (4/5)

God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist - Victor Stenger (3/5)

Bookless in Baghdad - Shashi Tharoor (2/5)

The Argumentative Indian - Amartya Sen (2/5)

Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger (5/5)

Chairman of the Board: A Practical Guide - Brian Lechem (1/5)

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseni (3/5)

Big Bang - Simon Singh (5/5)

The Undercover Economist - Tim Hartford (4/5)

Right Hand Left Hand - Chris McManus (4/5)

The Battle for God - Karen Armstrong (4/5)

Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel - Rebecca Goldstein (4/5)

Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics - Gino Segre (4/5)

God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism- Jonathan Kirsch (4/5)

The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher - Julian Baginni (2/5)

The Therapy of Desire - Martha Nussbaum (3/5)

Boeing versus Airbus - John Newhouse (4/5)

Physics of the Impossible - Michio Kaku (2/5)

The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company - David Price (2/5)

Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul - Kenneth Miller (4/5)

Lectures on The History of Moral Philosophy - John Rawls (3/5)

The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist - Richard P. Feynman (2/5)

Vikram Sarabhai - Amrita Shah (3/5)

Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works - Arthur Rimbaud (4/5)

Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World - Timothy Brook (4/5)

Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life - Leonard Mlodinow (3/5)

Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions - Martha Nussbaum (3/5)

Elizabeth Costello - J. M. Coetzee (5/5)

Mohandas - Rajmohan Gandhi (3/5)

Thus Spoke Zarathushtra - Friedrich Nietzsche (3/5)

Alberuni’s India - Al-Biruni (4/5)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain (5/5)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain (5/5)

The Quantum Ten - Sheila Jones (4/5)

PoincarĂ©’s Prize: The Hundred -Year Quest to Solve One of Math’s Greatest Puzzles - George G. Szpiro (4/5)

The Honors Class: Hilbert’s Problems and Their Solvers - Ben Yandell (3/5)

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments - George Johnson (3/5)

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut (4/5)

The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg - Robert P. Crease (2/5)

Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code - Matt Ridley (1/5)

Empires of the Indus - Alice Albinia (4/5)

Essays of E. B. White - E. B. White (4/5)

Cosmic Imagery: Key Images in the History of Science - John D. Barrow (4/5)

The Great American University - Jonathan Cole (5/5)

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality - Manjit Kumar (4/5)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Adafruit learning system

An amazing web-site with lots of electronics projects powered by learning platforms based on Arduino, and Rasberri pi.


Excerpt from web-site.

The Adafruit Learning System

In 2012, after years of coding tutorials by hand, Limor put together a small team to build a custom tutorial management system from the ground up. The Adafruit Learning System allows us to make a wide range of awesome tutorials fast and efficiently. We hope these tutorials will help you learn something new, and inspire you to make something great!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Should you do a PhD in Computer Science?

I came across these two great posts on why one should / should not do a PhD in Computer Science ....
An excerpt below.

Every year I am approached by students asking about grad school in Computer Science. I generally sit down with them for an hour or so and go over all of the details of why you should go, what the trade-offs are, where you should apply, what it takes to get in, and so forth. I figured it would be a good idea to write some of this advice up in a blog post so I can capture it in a more permanent form. 


And an excellent visual of what happens after a successful PhD...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Research paper and movie making

Writing a research paper is like making a movie. How? I explain here. 

Great movies are a product of great storytelling. First there is a script with a great story. The director is the person in charge of molding the script, making real life scenarios out of the story passages, controlling the actors who enact the passages with suitable dialogues, and makes sure that the entire flow of the story telling goes smoothly. If the entire process goes well, the result is a product which is loved by the audience and attracts both financial and critical success. 

A research paper has extreme similarities to the process of movie making. Great papers are those, which tell a great scientific story. The core theme is centered around a central idea around which the entire paper's narration revolves. There could be multiple directors here instead of a single one like movies. However, different directors have different roles and importance. The main author is many times like an actor + 
sub-ordinate director, while the main professor maintains the core focus and making sure that flow stays coherent with the story line. 

Experiments are  like different movie scenarios which help reveal the beauty of the story, convey why the story matters, and why it should be cared about. There is an introduction, there is a middle ground and there is a climax. So it all matches in tune with a movie's flow.

The editing process in movie making and films is often very similar. The director repeats and retakes multiple shots of the same scene until he is satisfied. Similarly an experiment is repeated till one gets expected results. The passages in a paper are re-written and edited continuously to make sure that they fit the story line. At the end when the complete movie is ready, it goes into post-production phase where different digital effects, dubbing, voice synchronization, editing is done. A research paper also goes into a post production phase once its first complete draft is ready. Lot of cuts are made in the texts, extra verbose text is omitted, paragraphs are re-aligned to make sure that they fit in the natural flow, presentation of figures, graphs etc is adjusted to make the representation as simple and as precise as possible so that the focus is not lost. 

And finally both movies and research papers are submitted in the market. A movie goes to a wider audience, a research paper goes to conference reviewers, where the fate of both is sealed. A good movie certainly is going to get good acknowledgement, however if it is bad in some aspects, it never gets a second chance and dies quickly. In contrast the conference paper reviewers (3 mostly), decide the fate of your papers publication solely. Many times the process seems unfair where papers get rejected on trivial reasons with irrelevant comments. However, unlike movies there are multiple chances. A paper once rejected could be resubmitted by improving on the feedback from the reviewers to another conference where its chances of acceptance could be higher. And the process continues until it is accepted. Even good papers could take around 3 rejections to get finally accepted. However, after that if the paper is really bad, it dies a natural death as there is a limit to which you could sell your idea in different dimensions to cater to reviewer comments. 

So I feel every PhD student should understand the process of moving making if he / she wants to get better at the art of research paper writing. At least there will be some useful new insights to seek, and new knowledge of any sort is always good.

On the leaving note here is an excellent piece of advise on why writing a good paper matters

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Social acceptance (In Research) and the inequality

How easy it is for a new comer to be a part of an already established social group or hierarchy? The social group / hierarchy could be in the form of groups in academia, industry, cultures, etc.

Some time back I watched a documentary "The lion Ranger - Attack of the teens"

The main narrator in the documentary is an owner of a wild animal shelter park in Africa. He explains with examples how when a new animal (Lion) is brought to the park, the already established groups of existing animals treat him. The different methods he uses to make the new member get used to the new life, and the new park mates. To explain in a single sentence, "Its complex and unpredictable".

How does it apply in humans? I try to think from the perspective of academic groups and provide my perspective.

Often during research conference visits I find a common scenario. People tend to do things in groups. Students from established research groups attend conferences and tend to stick together instead of mixing with others. Be at the talks, at the lunch tables, dinners, there is a strong affiliation of staying together. Those who know each other well, keep on talking with each other rather than mixing with those unknown faces, who are trying to learn new things. Getting into such groups is tricky, because unless you have proven your mettle, nobody is interested in talking with you. Well, to a certain degree it is correct because nothing comes free in this world, and each person is trying to get most out of their presence in the surroundings. So if you do not have anything to offer, why waste time on you? Why not try to make that extra impression on that other person whom you met in the last conference, so that it works in your advantage?

So getting into such groups is possible only if you have something to show. Then they listen to you, talk with you. I many times see blank faces roaming around trying to find that somebody to talk to. This is also common among nationalities. For example Greeks have a huge presence in database research field. They form a strong society, and always tend to stay together. Visit any top schools database group. You will find at least 1 professor from Greece there.

So how to break this jinx and make your presence felt in these groups? Is this the real purpose of the conferences? Another thing that I have noticed also is, the travel awards go to students who already are rich enough to attend these conferences due to their prestigious affiliations. One hardly sees the presence of students from developing countries. Well, of course you need to have something to show at the conference else why would somebody fund your travel? And its not only about travel expenses but also the expenses on accommodation, registration cost etc. So a conference travel is a costly affair that only rich groups can afford. And that is exactly what gets seen at most of the conferences.

However, I attended one summer school in Germany where the organizers made a conscious effort to mix people at lunch table by randomizing the name plates on each lunch table. They made conscious announcements, like "Students from XXX group, do not stay together, break up and mix with others". That was a great way to show the concern for solving the problem I mention here. However, very few go that extra length to take these kind of measures. 

So the inequality stays even in the realm of research world, where only the strong get to have their say. Who is to blame for this? Governments for not doing enough to support research? There is no concrete answer, again because nothing comes for free.

So as long as the inequality stays, the social hierarchy stays, and so stays the groupism behavior. Many a social philosophers and economists have tried solving these puzzles for a long duration and established different theories, but there is no silver bullet solution.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Emotions and Ignorance

Is there a relation between emotions and ignorance? I often think on this question.

How to define emotions? In my perspective an emotion is the state of mind as a response to thoughts, and other stimuli.

What is ignorance? Ignorance is lack of knowledge about certain things. In a broader context ignorance is lack of awareness. The awareness could be either about surrounding subjects, or the self awareness.

So a good question to pose is, does the lack of knowledge / lack of awareness leads to emotions ? Or emotions are independent of knowledge and could be triggered no matter the situation. Does the self awareness helps to control them, so that you are aware when emotions start building?

Crowd mentality is a result of subjective lack of knowledge and resulting emotions. Nostalgia is again an emotion, however it is independent of subjective knowledge. However, by being self aware there could be definite control on being nostalgic. Anger is an emotion which arises mostly due to the lack of knowledge about the complete situation, and misinterpretation of the situation based on one's own perception.

And there could be plenty of such examples ... However, now that I have scribbled these thoughts, I see a good relation between emotions and the ignorance, which I did not see earlier. 

Philosophy and Technology

I often wonder could some relation be made between philosophy and technology?

In my opinion philosophy describes the world from an idealistic point of view. Philosophers believe in ideologies, a world where things behave by a set of pre-defined standards.

Technology is about the art of bringing to life the ideas that were conceived in the realms of philosophy. To make things happen in the real world, from the dreams of an idealistic world. To enable the realization of standards to improve the quality of living.

So in my perspective philosophy is the theory, while technology is the application of these theories.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Girl Inventors ....

I came across this company today which designs engineering toys for Girls so that they could be interested in Engineering since childhood. I felt like ...wow ....

Below is a note from their web-site.

GoldieBlox, Inc. is a toy company founded in 2012 by Debbie Sterling, a female engineer from Stanford University. Engineers are solving some of the biggest challenges our society faces. They are critical to the world economy, earn higher salaries and have greater job security. And they are 89% male. We believe engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective.

GoldieBlox offers a much-needed female engineer role model who is smart, curious and accessible. She has the potential to get girls interested in engineering, develop their spatial skills and build self-confidence in their problem solving abilities. This means that GoldieBlox will nurture a generation of girls who are more confident, courageous and tech-savvy, giving them a real opportunity to contribute to the progress made by engineers in our society.

It’s 2013. It’s about time we opened our girls’ minds beyond the pink aisle at the toy store. It’s time to build a new story so our girls can help build our future.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Where are India's intellectuals?

Where are India's intellectuals?

Every time I read Indian newspapers these days I constantly feel depressed by the sheer size of ignorance in Indian media and its commercialization. I feel a strong urge to ask for all the Indian intellectuals to pose the question of where as a society is India's common person headed to? And what is the role of the intellectuals in shaping up this society's future? Does Indian middle class finally agrees that it can't sideline itself from its obligations for other underprivileged sections of society, because the unequal growth will lead to more crimes and hatred among the already divided Indian society? Does it agrees that it has a role to play in Indian politics? Does India's intellectuals (across the entire world) understand their role in guiding this directionless middle class for a better India?

The sheer madness that Indian government is doing in short sighted laws and poor governance makes me deeply worried. The speeches to satisfy the crowd mentality by offering short term solutions rather than asking the tough questions of what is it that is wrong in the Indian society at its fundamentals, is never highlighted by the media.

It's the Indian media that an ordinary Indian person gets educated from in his/ her daily tough life, be it by the means of the daily ritual of morning newspaper reading, or the nightly TV news watching. Media's responsibility is tremendous. By sensationalizing the hot issues like "Hang the rapist" and making it as splashy for gaining TRPs, not only the long term solutions sidelined, but also a great opportunity to make long term changes in a society's perspective of introspection missed totally.

I wish India's intellectuals make their presence felt in guiding this directionless transformation in the Indian society. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Toys from Trash

Science could be made exciting by having experimental demonstration of the fundamental concepts.

Professor Gupta realizes this vision with an amazing array of science tools for kids that he builds from almost trash material.


Monday, April 1, 2013

$30 million, 17 year old guy, and the Yahoo acquisition

17 year old whizkid's company gets acquired by Yahoo for $30 million. Wow. Nice. I read this news first on Economist.

My immediate reaction was, the technology that goes behind such kind of a product is impossible to be at the hands of a 17 year kid. What is the real story? This technology needs PhD level knowledge.

A quick search about the technology revealed that this boy was backed by www.sri.com, a silicon valley non-profit r & d firm. Here is a link to the company web-site and what it does.

However, for a layman the news remains as flashy as told by the news anchor or by the reporter of the story, that, a 17 year created a technology which was acquired by Yahoo. In the articles that I read on Internet I never came across name of sri.

This is what I call news without verified facts. However, who cares, because this is how the business gets done. Steve Jobs gets all the credit for all the businesses he started, no matter, he did not invent the technologies behind many of them. (By the way sri is also the place where computer mouse was invented, they licensed it to Xerox park research center in Silicon Valley, and Steve Jobs being the business genius he was, saw the great potential it hold in revolutionizing consumer PC, and brought it to the market and the rest is history).

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Krishiraja....An innovative farmer's story

Necessity is the mother of invention. 

Creativity could emerge out of desperation and the need to survive. 

I came across this inspiring innovation story and felt like sharing. Its about a poor farmer in rural Maharashtra village who became an innovator to overcome problems in farming his small land and built a portable device using bicycle parts. He was awarded the "National innovation award' and has helped many poor farmers like him overcome obstacles in farming practices. 

With ‘Krishiraja’, a portable device made from bicycle parts, Gopal Bhise has made ploughing feasible for poor farmers

A more detailed version with picture of the device is here. 

For details readers can contact Mr. Gopal Bhise, Shendurni,Taluka: Jamner, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, phone: 9970521044 and Dr. Nitin Maurya at email: nitinnif@gmail.com and info@nifindia.org, phone: 079-26732456 and 26732095.

Hole in the wall ...

Schools of the future .....

How should schools of the future look like? Are schools the right way to impart education? Do they serve the purpose in the world of Information age and the Internet? Can self learning be achieved?

I remember reading about "The hole in the wall" experiment long time back. In this experiment a computer was stuck in a wall in a slum to observe what would be the reaction of the children in the area. It was observed that children not only managed to successfully self learn how to browse the computer but advanced to more skills in using the computer, even though they had not seen one before at all.

I happened to come across the creator of that experiment who won a TED prize for his idea about building a school in the cloud. Here is the talk.

Children no matter where they are born, to rich parents or in slums, are creative and curious by nature. It is the responsibility of the society to understand how to nurture this creativity to foster talents.

The cost of missing an opportunity of the type the presenter speaks could be heavy for the societies if it does not understand these kind of basic questions about how to kindle the learning process in kids.

I wish we have more action oriented scientists who want to bring change in the societies perception by bringing fundamental changes, than the scientists who are happy in publishing mindless publications without any impact on society. I wish more scientists shared this urge.