Etc: Links for 11th October, 2019

  1. Celebtrating Rafa Nadal. That this piece is written 14(!) years after Nadal won his first Grand Slam is beyond remarkable. I am, for the record (and will forever be) a Federer acolyte, but I gave up on the who-is-better battle long, long ago. I am just grateful to be a tennis fan alive in this era.
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    “”Under different circumstances, his performance would have been more than good enough to win the tournament. He had the bad luck of facing Nadal, one of the sport’s greatest champions, on a night when Nadal simply refused to lose.”
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  2. A useful list for lazy weekends: the signature film of every city. The excerpt below is about Washington D.C. Pair this recommendation with an app called JustWatch, which is worth it’s proverbial weight in gold.
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    “If you want to get a sense of a city in a movie, following around a couple of reporters for a major paper is a damn good way to evoke the mood of the metropolis. Watching Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein relentlessly prowl the streets and restaurants and parking garages of the nation’s capital in pursuit of a truth that will ultimately bring down the President of the United States is as D.C., and American, as it gets. Honorable mention: Ashby’s “Being There,” Friedkin’s “The Exorcist”, Brooks’ “Broadcast News,” the Coens’ “Burn After Reading,” Schumacher’s “D.C. Cab” and countless others.”
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  3. Humanity is a kind of ‘biological boot loader’ for AI, says Elon Musk.
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    “People don’t realize we are already a cyborg. Because we are so well integrated with our phones and our computers. The phone is almost like an extension of yourself. If you forget your phone, it’s like a missing limb. But the bandwidth, the communication bandwidth to the phone is very low, especially input. So in fact, input bandwidth to computers has actually gone down, because typing with two thumbs, as opposed to 10 fingers, is a big reduction in bandwidth.”
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  4. The 100 Best Albums of the 21st Century. I am not qualified to pass opinion, but my commute is, as they say, sorted.
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  5. A book recommendation via MR. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. I have purchased it, but haven’t read it yet. Probably (and hopefully) on the Thailand trip.

Etc: Links for 13th September, 2019

  1. The filmy divide in India.
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  2. Man or woman?
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  3. “Bau once told Rahul Bhattacharya, in an encounter for the ages from the book Pundits from Pakistan, that the action was “all artificial”, part of a carefully created persona built to defeat batsmen. It wasn’t the bowler or the ball that beat batsmen, it was this persona. They say that about Shane Warne too, about how batsmen were dead just from the theatre of Warne at the top of his mark, but man, did it ring true with Bau.”
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    Osman Samiuddin on Abdul Qadir.
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  4. “When we seek Western fads at Indian levels of income, the economic cost of our perceived moral rectitude will be borne by the poor.”
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    On opportunity costs.
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  5. On food, history, India and Asia.

Tech: Links for 8th August, 2019

Learning without technology in the twenty-first century is, in my opinion, an immense waste of available resources. That being said, here’s a list of five specific things, all created by Google, that may help you learn better.

As always please let me know how I can add to the list.

  1. Google Classroom: whether a student or an educator, this is a technology that is immensely helpful for setting up links related to a classroom. Whether you have an institutional ID, or a plain vanilla Gmail account, you can use Google Classroom to set up an online learning environment.
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  2. Google Docs: Is useful and well known anyways, but I remain convinced that students could do a lot better with Google Docs as a collaborative note taking tool.
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  3. Google Keep: Is a great place to, well, keep stuff when doing online research. Integrates well with Google Docs as well.
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  4. The Learn Digital With Google program (it’s free!)
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  5. Google AI Education. I have come across this literally only today, so can’t vouch for it entirely – but sure seems interesting. This one in particular caught my eye.

Tech: Links for 16th July, 2019

  1. “On July 3, I challenged readers of my Big Internet Math-Off pitch to try to find the way to divide 24 muffins among 25 people that makes the smallest piece as large as possible. ”
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    Click on this link to get a sense of a truly interesting math problem, and how to think about them.
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  2. “Sitting in a hotel lobby in Tangier, Morocco, Charity Wayua laughs as she recounts her journey to the city for a conference on technology and innovation. After starting her trip in Nairobi, Kenya, where she leads one of IBM’s two research centers in Africa, she had to fly past her destination for a layover in Dubai, double back to Casablanca, and then take a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Tangier. What would have been a seven- to eight-hour direct flight was instead a nearly 24-hour odyssey. This is not unusual, she says.”
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    An interesting set of links contained in this link, which speaks about how AI is being used in Africa – and you also get a sense about the opportunities and limitations in Africa.
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  3. “Then there’s Matthew Porter. He requires only a camera, model cars, and a bit of Photoshop to send muscle cars flying in his new book, The Heights. It’s a resourceful, low-tech homage to some of the most iconic, memorable stunts in the car-chase genre. “There’s just nothing more visceral than a car in the air,” he says. “It’s aspirational and romantic.””
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    These kind of tech articles are the most fun to read. Tinkering around can yield surprisingly good (and fun!) results.
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  4. “Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.”
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    That is from a lovely essay by Isaac Asimov on creativity.
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  5. “A group of researchers have now used this technique to munch through 3.3 million scientific abstracts published between 1922 and 2018 in journals that would likely contain materials science research. The resulting word relationships captured fundamental knowledge within the field, including the structure of the periodic table and the way chemicals’ structures relate to their properties. The paper was published in Nature last week.”
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    A very short, but no less delightful read on some of the more mind boggling applications of AI.

Tech: Links for 9th July, 2019

  1. “In it, astronaut Sally Jansen has been working to come to grips with a Mars mission that went disastrously wrong, and NASA ended its crewed missions into space. But while she’s trying to move on, scientists detect an object designated 2I/2044 D1 entering our solar system, and when it begins to slow down, they realize that it’s an alien artifact. Jansen is called in to try and intercept the object and figure out what is behind it before it reaches Earth.”
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    Science Fiction is a great way to learn a lot and have a lot of fun while doing so, and for that reason, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the premise of this book. In similar vein, I recently (and finally) finished The Three Body Problem, and can heartily recommend it.
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  2. “The camera was loaded with machine vision algorithms trained by Hamm himself. They identified whether Metric was coming or going and whether he had prey in his mouth. If the answer was “yes,” the cat flap would lock for 15 minutes and Hamm would get a text. (In a nice flourish, the system also sends a donation, or “blood money” as Hamm calls it, to the National Audubon Society, which protects the birds cats love to kill.)”
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    There are many people who bandy about the word AI these days, but this very short read (and within it, a very entertaining video) helps you understand how it could by applied in myriad ways.
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  3. “LightSail 2 is more ambitious and will actually try to maneuver through space, and even boost itself into different orbits using sunlight. The new mission’s mission control website will let people around the world follow along, including the 23,331 people who contributed to the project’s Kickstarter campaign, which raised $1,241,615 for the spacecraft.”
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    A third link from the same website (either The Verge is on fire, or I am being lazy today), but the best of the lot, in my opinion. It is now possible to crowdfund a satellite launch that contains a sail – and you can now watch your investment in space as it flies above your head. What a time to be alive.
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  4. “But while Tufte’s concerns are not limited to charts, he has spent a lifetime thinking through what he called the “perennial” problem of how to represent a multidimensional world in the two dimensions of the page or screen. At the end of the day, he pulled out a first edition of Galileo Galilei to show how the great minds of the past had grappled with the same issues. He rhapsodized over Galileo’s tiny, in-line sketches of Saturn, which clearly inspired his own advocacy of “sparklines” (tiny charts embedded in text at the same size as the text), as well as some beautifully precise illustrations of sunspots.”
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    Data visualization, medical visits, Galileo and sparklines. As they say, self-recommending.
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  5. “And with 92 percent of future jobs globally requiring digital skills, there’s a focus on helping students develop skills for careers that don’t yet exist. Last year, Sweden declared coding a core subject to be taught from the first year of primary school. And there is an appetite for these skills among students, too, with 85 percent of Brazilians from 16-23 indicating that they want to work in the technology sector. ”
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    Well, there’s a thought – I refer to Sweden’s decision. One, complements, not substitutes. Two, the links are worth following in this link – this is a subject very close to my heart.

Links for 28th May, 2019

  1. “On March 18, 2013, at the Motera B ground, a scraggy-haired stick figure bowls his last two overs, landing (or trying to land) yorker after yorker. Looking on is former India coach John Wright, then head coach of Mumbai Indians. The batsmen are Mumbai openers Aditya Tare and Shoaib Shaikh. The No. 3, Abhishek Nayar, remembers: “Two pure batsmen at the crease, two overs of unbelievable yorkers. We couldn’t get him off the square.” Tare returns to the dressing room and says that the strange bowler was “a lot sharper than you thought”. One ball hits a batsman’s footmark, shoots up over wicketkeeper-captain Parthiv Patel’s head and zips over the boundary line. In the gallery, Wright sits up. Woah. The lad has wheels. “With some players you see something different and you go… there’s something there. It was the same that day. Real wheels.” He watches two overs, talks to Parthiv, makes a phone call to HQ, and Bumrah is invited to sign up for the IPL’s richest franchise.”
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    Sharda Ugra in The Cricket Monthly on Jasprit Bumrah – but as Niranjan Rajadhakshya recently pointed out, really on development. Also, I was completely wrong about the IPL – it has, without a shadow of a doubt, been a boon for cricket in general, and Indian cricket in particular. Mea culpa!
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  2. “The overall messages that emerge from our analysis are as follows. First, we find evidence that NPEs can be beneficial in improving allocation of technologies to end users (benign middleman), but also use the patent system to threaten litigation on downstream firms (stick-up artist). Second, the existence of NPEs in the market for ideas could discourage downstream innovators and encourage upstream innovators.Third, we show that the overall impact of NPEs on innovation is far from immediate, and depends on many forces in the market. A key question for understanding the impact of NPEs on innovation is what fraction of patent-infringing firms are innovators. On the academic side, researchers can further explore the role of non-innovators versus innovators in patent infringement. On the policy side, our work suggests that “patent trolls” need to also be understood in their multiple roles, instead of putting them into the single box of benign or malevolent.”
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    The importance of opportunity cost, the role of patents, and how difficult it can be to understand how markets and market participants work, in one slightly complex article. Worth a read, for sure.
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  3. “The scale of the potential changes seems hard to imagine. But look back through history, and humanity’s relations with the living world have seen three great transformations: the exploitation of fossil fuels, the globalisation of the world’s ecosystems after the European conquest of the Americas, and the domestication of crops and animals at the dawn of agriculture. All brought prosperity and progress, but with damaging side-effects. Synthetic biology promises similar transformation. To harness the promise and minimise the peril, it pays to learn the lessons of the past.”
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    The Econommist examines, lucidly as always, the impact that synthetic biology might have on our future.
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  4. “The Heckman Curve describes the rate of return to public investments in human capital for the disadvantaged as rapidly diminishing with age. Investments early in the life course are characterised as providing significantly higher rates of return compared to investments targeted at young people and adults. This paper uses the Washington State Institute for Public Policy dataset of program benefit cost ratios to assess if there is a Heckman Curve relationship between program rates of return and recipient age. The data does not support the claim that social policy programs targeted early in the life course have the largest returns, or that the benefits of adult programs are less than the cost of intervention.”
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    On whether the Heckman Curve makes sense or not, from an empirial viewpoint. Again, for reasons of opportunity cost and the perils of policy planning.
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  5. “Many regard the falloff in the creation of high-wage jobs as the inevitable result of advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. It isn’t. Technology can be used either to displace labor or to enhance worker productivity. The choice is ours. But to ensure that such decisions benefit workers, governments need to coax the private sector away from its singular focus on automation.”
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    Darren Acemoglu helps us understand the importance of complements and substitutes, and how policy making, in spite of its many perils, remains important.

Links for 18th February, 2019

  1. “That’s a tenet of progressivism: that progress is inevitable. So if you get something designated as progress, then your party, which was responsible for it, will get the credit for it, will always get to attack the other party for opposing it, and will find a continual source of votes in future elections by defending it. And that assumes that people will passively accept this narrowing of the range of political controversy and enjoy the individual relationship that each person has with this huge government that sends checks in the mail.”
    A rather old interview (from 2012), but the article I linked to yesterday about dole outs in India induced some additional research that helped me land up on this article – and it makes some interesting points, none of which is more interesting than the one quoted above.
  2. “The case of these surviving princes in our socialist republic is, in some ways, reflective of the countless ironies that make up Indian democracy. India remains, in many ways, a marriage of awkward histories and feudal legacies with the idealism of liberal thought and constitutional values. They do not sit easily with each other always, and sometimes jostle with force to make their presence felt. And yet the enterprise moves forward, one way or another: which perhaps explains why, even as we celebrate a Dalit president, newspapers descend into a frenzy at the advent of babies to freshly adopted maharajas; how even as a “chaiwallah” rises against the odds to become prime minister, there are princes and rajas to whom his government still owes a royal pension.”
    Manu S. Pillai on the wonder that is India today – its many contradictions and confusions. This one happens to be about how we still pay out pensions to princes and zamorins.
  3. “In short, what happened since September 2018 was the trifecta of trade tariffs, inadequate fiscal firepower from the Ministry of Finance (MoF), and a consistently hawkish PBOC. The 10% tariff on $250 billion of Chinese exports weakened domestic demand more than fiscal support was able to offset, which was reflected in both slower growth and lower inflation. And as inflation fell, the PBOC chose not to adjust the nominal interest rate, so the real interest rate effectively rose as a result. This confluence of factors put significant downward pressure on economic growth.”
    The article contains some forecasts as well – make what you will of them. But the analysis of why China did not use either fiscal or monetary tools is worth reading.
  4. “One story I’ve found myself revisiting over and over again is Asimov’s ‘Franchise,’ published as a short story in the August 1955 edition of If magazine. In it, a future America (2008), decides to reduce voting to a statistical model that extrapolates the outcomes of all elections based on a set of questions answered by one, extremely representative person.”
    The Verge has put together a list of books you might want to read to understand AI better. I am delighted to say that I haven’t read a single one of these, and therefore have a lot of reading to do.
  5. “The supporters are known as ‘Umans’ and control the team using the free United Managers’ app – a start-up which began working with the club in 2017.Before the game Umans can decide on the starting line-up, substitutes, the formation, set-pieces and communicate with staff and players.They vote using coins that they receive by using the app, or they can purchase a premium subscription. The more a Uman plays the game, the more weight their vote is worth.”
    What a fascinating experiment. A football club that is run, on the fly, by the fans. With the advent of technology, what else might be run this way in the future? With what consequences?