Week 28

It has been over six (eventful) months since I wrote something on this blog. Let me jot down some of the things that I’m doing right now.

Recent events

  • Right after my second semester ended on the 22nd of May, I went on a solo trip to Himachal Pradesh. Places I visited included Sarahan (in the Sutlej valley) and Chitkul, the last village in Baspa Valley. Tried crossing a river and got picked up by the ITBP, climbed a mountain for the first time, etc. One hell of an adventure! I will one day write a post describing them in detail. :-)
  • Doing a machine learning internship under Prof. Jayaraman, of the Center for Informatics, at my university. Reading academic papers, learning Matlab and bash,etc.
  • I have promised myself that I will complete the following Coursera courses: Machine Learning from Stanford (till Aug 25), R Programming and the Data Scientist’s Toolbox (the last two are part of the Data Science specialization offered by Johns Hopkins, they end on Aug 4). That’s why I’m writing them here.

Week #1 Picks

Recent Events

  • My second semester of college will begin next week. :-)
  • Just finished reading a very interesting book called Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
  • Bitcoin turns 5 years old today (the Genesis block was mined on January 3, 2009).

Interesting Reads

Week #30 Picks

Interesting Reads

Lists: Economics blogs

A list of blogs I have been following for commentary on economics and other related subjects.

India

  • Ajay Shah’s blog – He’s a prominent economist and a Professor at the National Institute for Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi.
  • This one is by a Delhi-based journalist (Avinash Celestine) – Data Stories – Beautiful visualization of Indian demographics. (I wonder if I could create such visuals for economic data on various Indian states/cities – GDP per-capita, economic freedom, etc. and also for other census data which I think the author has not yet explored). In his own words:

Much of the coverage of the census has been about the headline numbers- a sex ratio that remains dismal, a slowing population growth rate and so on. But there’s a huge amount to be gained, and many interesting stories to be told, by digging deeper (by looking at data at the district level for instance) than others have done so far.

General

  • Marginal Revolution – authored by Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, both of them professors at George Mason University.
  • EconLog – at the Library of Economics and Liberty.
  • Cafe Hayek – Where Orders Emerge.
  • Chris Blattman – an Assistant Professor of Political Science & International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. His posts contain lots of advice for economics students.

Lists: blogs by academics

I have, over the past few months, been following blogs authored by prominent academics (both Indian and foreign). I have found that they are rich source of useful information and commentary on the higher education scenario and various other topics as well.

Here is the list of blogs:

As you can see, I haven’t mentioned any foreign academics till now. I’ll add them..soon.

Helping entrepreneurs navigate the license raj?

A few months ago, I came across an article by Balaji Viswanathan titled How to start your restaurant business in India?. It piqued my curiosity. What if there were a site which offered such HOWTOs for most things that needed government permits? A one-stop portal that offered detailed information about anything involving government – setting up businesses, procuring documents and approvals, taxation, purchasing land and many more things?

I will begin working on this idea after my JEE Advanced exam (June 2). I hope the idea evolves into something that achieves some political effect (or am I being too optimistic?). Atleast, I will be doing something instead of just cribbing about the current state of affairs.

The motivation for this post came from these webpages:

Linguistic Puzzles

I took IIIT Hyderabad’s entrance test for Computational Linguistics last week. I must confess that I had a very vague idea of what computational linguistics was. As soon as I saw the announcement (around the time of the Ides of March), I immediately began learning about the subject so as to sound intelligent which writing the required applicant essay. I already knew and was impressed by tools such as Quillpad and Google Translate (see this). Then there was this confusion over whether CL and NLP mean different things (I’m still a bit confused about this). The term NLP (natural language processing) evoked a nice fuzzy feeling whereas linguistics felt so boring and complex (words such as morphology, phonology, syntax, etc. sound so scary, don’t they?).

There were two factors which motivated me to apply for the program (B.Tech+MS in CL): (1) Its IIIT-H! Aren’t those guys beating the IITs at everything from ICPC to placements? Admission via JEE Main has become too difficult. This program seems like an easy way to enter its hallowed halls. (2) Reading somewhere that ‘startups such as tachyon.in are developing cutting-edge technologies using nlp’ – the usage of the word startups is enough!

Anyway, I found the test to be.. unconventional. I especially enjoyed solving the two linguistics puzzles. They were challenging but fun too! One question asked the student to correctly match transliterated Amharic words. The other one gave a few sentences from an indigenous Mexican language and asked to translate new sentences and also to form new ones.

Only after the exam did I learn about linguistic puzzles. And that there existed Linguistic Olympiads. In India, we have the Panini Linguistics Olympiad – I learned that it  happened in February this year (damn you information asymmetry!).

I did a bit of digging around and found links to a few linguistic puzzles:

Week #16 Picks

Recent events

  • The Planning Commission organized a hackathon on April 6-7 to create some buzz around the 12th Five Year Plan.
  • The market price of bitcoin reached an all-time high of $236 and promptly crashed to somewhere around $80.

Interesting Reads

Best of Quora

So many great teachers

Over the past few years, the amount of learning resources on the internet has grown exponentially. First, there was MIT OpenCourseWare (which continues to be amazing to this day) and recently there was the MOOC explosion – Coursera, EdX and Udacity bringing hundreds of free courses from elite universities. Here are a few professors from these courses/platforms that have had an impact on me.

Robert Ghrist

Robert Ghrist image

A few months ago, I came across a MOOC on Single Variable Calculus by Robert Ghrist of the University of Pennsylvania. The quality of lectures is extra-ordinary. I’ve learned so much simply from skimming through his videos. For example, I didn’t know that Taylor series’ could be so beautiful. Or why we use L’Hôpital’s rule. Now I do. I read somewhere that he (Prof. Robert Ghrist) puts in many hours just to make a single video (drawing, animating, etc.).

I also found a brief (60 second) but wonderful video of him talking about “Why Is Mathematics Useful?” Then, there’s this short, 45-page picturetext called Funny Little Calculus Textbook. Thank you Prof. Ghrist, for showing us how beautiful calculus can be.

Donald Sadoway

I clearly remember how watching his lectures on 3.091 Solid State Chemistry at MIT-OCW kindled my interest in chemistry.

“It’s all chemistry the rest is stamp collecting.”

I went from a high-schooler who loathed chemical formulae to one who would not stop talking about batteries and organic reaction mechanisms. And who could forget his powerful speech at TED on the liquid metal battery.

 

I’ve left out so many other great teachers – Walter Lewin. Also, people who have written virtual textbooks such as Stephen Lower and William Reusch.

Places to learn, on the internet

So much has been happening over the past few years in the field of higher education. I felt like jotting down a few important free/open-access resources so as to serve as a reminder to use them when I have more time.

No Excuse List - A list of the best places on the web to learn anything, free.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Online Colleges and other academic stuff

Programming

Economics

Other resources

Blogs of prominent educators

I’ve gained much insight into the higher education scene by reading the blog posts of a few educators (mostly in India).

I read somewhere that ‘work expands to fill up the available time’. How true! These days I am busy preparing for my entrance exams and so I have an excuse as to why I can’t fully utilize these resources/participate in some of these courses. I hope that once my entrance tests are over I will be able to allot more time to this stuff. I hope I don’t fall into the this trap:

.. waste precious time in “creative” noodling instead of actually getting shit done.

Knowing that so many wonderful resources are available online for free, there can be no justifiable reason to not learn, right?

Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992)

“There is no figure who had more of an influence, no person had more of an influence on the intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain than Friedrich Hayek. His books were translated and published by the underground and black market editions, read widely, and undoubtedly influenced the climate of opinion that ultimately brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

- Milton Friedman

Friedrich August Hayek CH (8 May 1899 – 23 March 1992), born in Austria-Hungary as Friedrich August von Hayek and frequently known as F. A. Hayek, was an Austrian, later turned British, economist and philosopher best known for his defense of classical liberalism. In 1974, Hayek shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (with Gunnar Myrdal) for his “pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and … penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena”.

Image courtesy: Wikipedia