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.
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:
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 NLPmeandifferent 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:
Teacher! Don’t teach nonsense – an essay by Sauvik Chakraverti published in 2002 that calls for an overhaul of high school economics. He later came out with the Free Your Mind ebooks (Part I and II). This has been at the back of my mind for the past few weeks. I hope to create a site that aggregates various economics learning resources available on the internet (perhaps similar to NoExcuseList.com).
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.
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.).
“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.
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.
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?
“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”.
Every individual is to be trusted to make his own decisions (personal, political andeconomic). A free-market economy will always prosper on its own, for it is driven by the self-interest of each individual). Just like how language was pivotal in developing human thinking, trade and civilization were and are responsible for our prosperity and quality of life.
It is common knowledge in India that corruption is rampant in all government endeavors. Yet, most of the people I know harbor the flawed belief that economic freedoms are wrong, that trade and profit-making are something to be shunned. They believe that the answer to the problem is more bureaucracy, more regulation and and the state assuming control of all industries and enterprises (ergo, back to socialism). This phenomenon is worrying. Why do so many people still believe in socialism even after having suffered at its hands for more than half-a-century? Has this nation, whose ancient wealth was derived from trade and where Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra, forgotten how wealth is truly created? How do I counter someone who is arguing against economic freedoms and private enterprise?
I’m sharing a video that beautifully explains the story “I, Pencil”. It captures the marvelous complexity and co-ordination that goes into the making of the humble pencil. Please watch this brilliant video.
I have been revisiting the ideas mentioned in the amazing book God wants you dead (I highly recommend that anyone brave enough to critically examine their beliefs read it). In one part of the book, the authors touch upon the topic of privacy, transparency and accountability:
Fortunately, the answer to this problem is already in the works. As the trusted computer base gets smaller, it also gets harder to compromise.
Eventually, people will have computer screens built into their glasses, and then after that, feeding the display directly into their brains. With no visible display, it will be impossible to covertly read over a persons shoulder, no matter how small or well positioned the camera. Eventually no keyboard will be necessary, with finger motions, sub-vocalizations, or direct brain connections. As we blend computers with our own minds, we should be able to retain private communications even as cheap small cameras mean that we lose all physical privacy.
The end product of this could be the world of totally physical transparency with total intellectual freedom. In such a world, you could never kill someone and get away with it. You could not publicly claim that you despise certain behavior, while secretly doing what you claim to hate. But you could speak your mind anonymously, and argue academically for the validity of any behavior – thus (hopefully) increasing tolerance for all consensual human behavior.
A scenario where only a small central power has access to these technologies is anathema to the idea of liberty. In the wake of increased corruption [or is it increased reporting of corruption] in government activities, citizens who want to avail government services/deal with bureaucrats could simply carry high-quality tiny surveillance devices that capture. This could go a long way in ensuring accountability of those in positions of power.
The point of this post is not to point out corruption in the government. I want to point out how technology and its proper implementation could solve many of our problems. There are so many people working on technology that eliminate room for human negligence/dispute, stuff that could revolutionize our lives: crypto-currencies, smart contracts, etc.