Saturday, April 30, 2011

Greater specialization makes innovation much harder

From Innovation Shortfall, Low Hanging Fruit, and the Frontiers of Knowledge via a link in Adapt*, by Tim Harford:
"Big takeaway: “The shorter the period that innovators spend innovating, the less their output as individuals over their lifetime. If innovation is central to technological progress, then forces that reduce the length of active innovative careers will reduce the rate of technological progress. This effect will be particularly strong if innovators do their best work when they are young.”

These facts ought to give us pause. Jones postulates that the main reason we see an age shift is because the frontiers of knowledge are farther and farther away. The shoulders of giants are higher. The low fruit has been taken. Because of how complex and specialized our knowledge has become, Jones says the young must spend more and more years training and acquiring knowledge to reach the cutting edge.

Now it may be that the “burden of knowledge” is heavier than it used to be. But my own take is that we shouldn’t confuse the accumulation of credential crud for the difficulty of reaching the frontiers of knowledge. On the macro scale, we often cite the Mancur Olson thesis that special interests sap the dynamism of economic growth over time. I believe the Jones data and Cowen’s arguments present further evidence supporting the Olson story. For instance, why should we believe PhD programs are designed to efficiently move students from ignorance to the frontier of knowledge as quickly as possible? Academics are not mainly truth-seekers. They’re incentivized to pursue other aims such as pleasing their advisors, their tenure review panel, or a grant making body. These aims do not coincide with discovering new and useful knowledge. Secondly, we can go back further. A lot of education from K-12 to college core requirements is a waste of time. How much of this knowledge is relevant to future work making discoveries? If anything, Jones should suggest we try to make education more efficient.

But I digress. In all this discussion, Cardwell’s Law looms in the background. No country stays technologically superior forever. As yesterday’s innovators becomes today’s vested interests, stagnation follows. There are reasons for that. All of these arguments–Thiel’s, Cowen’s, Jones’s–suggest we may need a thousand nations sooner than we think. We will soon find not the singularity, but the stagnation is near."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Robin Dunbar revisits Dunbar Number

in Friends to count on.
More discussion in Local & Distant Friendships – A Dunbar Number Conundrum (via Rajib Khan):
"If we can handle only 150 substantive relationships, how can we increase and strengthen local connections of the sort Dunbar speaks of here while still maintaining the extra-local connections many of us need to work in an extralocal information economy?"

Rajib Khan summarizes the recent research on

The genetic origin of Indians:
"What’s the biggest surprise from these results? For me I think it is the deep and incredibly thorough biological synthesis which characterizes the Indian subcontinent. We all know that there is a big difference between a Kashmiri Pandit and an Adivasi from South India. But about one third of the Pandit’s ancestry is “Ancestral South Indian,” which is almost absent outside of the subcontinent. And about one third of the Adivasi’s ancestry is “Ancestral North Indian,” which connects this individual with the populations which span the Atlantic, to the Urals, to the Sahara. The past is a strange and mysterious land. But the veil of ignorance is slowly lifting…."

Omar Ali gives links to other posts of Rajib Khan in Science sheds light on population history and living standards
P.S. See also Rajib Khan's South Asian endogamy predates the British.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Satya Sai Baba passes away

I never met him; I heard about him from my mother around 1958 when he assured her that I would go back to college. He seems to be allright as far as godmen go. The following write up in The Hindu A secular spiritual leader.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Links, April 24, 2011

Obama’s Young Mother Abroad
The Psychology of the 'Birther' Myth
Why economists study what they do — and how the crisis might change it
Google Uses My Credit Card Without Telling Me
Review of 'Poor Economics' by A. Banerjee and E. Duflo, which will be available tomorrow from Kindle
The Other Temple Entry
: "Ask the Dalit crorepatis, and they say they don’t see the need for reservations for their children. Let others not as fortunate as us avail of its benefits, they say. They are set on consolidating on the gains they have made so far. And maybe get into Fortune’s list of billionaires. With a firm named Fortune Constructions, Kamble just might make it there."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reading recommendations for psychologists

The books and journal articles all psychologists should read. William James’s The Principles of Psychology (1890)among the most recommended. Strangely most might have a read a few of those books.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On 'brain time'

and other things in this portrait of neuroscientist David Eagleman The Possibilian via the MindHacks post Time flies when you’re having fun.Some excerpts from the article:
"Time isn’t like the other senses, Eagleman says. Sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing are relatively easy to isolate in the brain. They have discrete functions that rarely overlap: it’s hard to describe the taste of a sound, the color of a smell, or the scent of a feeling. (Unless, of course, you have synesthesia—another of Eagleman’s obsessions.) But a sense of time is threaded through everything we perceive. It’s there in the length of a song, the persistence of a scent, the flash of a light bulb. “There’s always an impulse toward phrenology in neuroscience—toward saying, ‘Here is the spot where it’s happening,’ ” Eagleman told me. “But the interesting thing about time is that there is no spot. It’s a distributed property. It’s metasensory; it rides on top of all the others.”
One of the seats of emotion and memory in the brain is the amygdala, he explained. When something threatens your life, this area seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass."
And so on... to Francis Crick's advice and brains of drummers.

Links April 21

Richard Florida on Immigrants and the Wealth of Nations:
"Americans like think of their country as the world’s great melting pot. But this new immigration index and our analysis suggest that that’s no longer an assumption that can be taken for granted.

While America’s pundits and politicians obsess over the alleged social costs of illegal immigration, they should be worried that we may not always be the premier destination for legal immigrants, who bring the skills, energy and ambition that provide so much of the punch for the twin engines of innovation and entrepreneurship. As Scott Page wrote in The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, “When we meet people who think differently than we do, who speak different languages, who have different experiences, training, and values, we should see opportunity and possibility. We should recognize that a talented ‘I’ and a talented ‘they’ can become an even more talented ‘we.’”

Nations that welcome the best and most diverse talent win, while those that close their borders to it fall further and further behind. The ability not just to attract immigrants but to integrate and effectively harness their skills is a key axis of global economic success, now and even more so in the future."

C.P. Chandrasekhar on Development Banks: Their role and importance for development. Abstract:
"The role of development banks in the development trajectories of late industrialising, developing countries cannot be overemphasised. However, with financial liberalisation of the neoliberal variety transforming financial structures, some countries are doing away with specialised development banking institutions on the grounds that equity and bond markets would do the job. This is bound to lead to a shortfall in finance for long-term investments, especially for medium and small enterprises."

two posts on Jonathan Levin: John Bates Clark Winner 2011: "How could we take what we’ve learned from the mathematical theory of auctions, or mathematical theories of information economics, and actually do it. How could you find interesting markets in the world and apply those ideas, and when would they apply?"

Two reviews of 'The Information' by James Gleick. I found the book informative and largely enjoyable but clutteres and spluttering towards the end. There is also an interesting 'review' by Freeman Dyson How We Know and a detailed one in NewYork Times James Gleick’s History of Information.

The critical period for vision

may not be so critical:
Formerly Blind Children Shed Light on a Centuries-Old Puzzle
An earlier report on Pawan Sinha's work and Project Prakash:
SfN Presidential Lecture | Significant behavioral and neural plasticity after the onset of sight in the congenitally blind

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

From an old speech of Balraj Sahni

'Today We Need A Messiah' :
"A rough and ready type of Hindustani is used by the working masses all over India. They make practical use of it by discarding all academic and grammatical flourishes. In this type of Hindustani, "Larka bhi jata hei" and "Larki bhi jata hei". There is an atmosphere of rare freedom in this patois and even the intellectuals indulge in it when they want to relax. And actually this is in the best tradition of Hindustani. This is how it was born, made progress, and acquired currency all over India. In the old days it was contemptuously called Urdu—or the language of the camps or bazaars.

Today in this bazaari Hindustani the word 'university' becomes univrasti—a much better word than vishwa vidyalaya, 'lantern' becomes laltain, the 'chasis' of a car becomes chesi, 'spanner' becomes pana, i.e. anything and everything is possible. The string with which the soldier cleans his rifle is called 'pullthrough' in English. In Roman Hindustani it becomes fultroo—a beautiful word. 'Barn-door' is the term the Hollywood lights man uses for a particular type of two blade cover. The Bombay film worker has changed it to bandar, an excellent transformation. This Hindustani has untold and unlimited possibilities. It can absorb the international scientific and technological vocabulary with the greatest of ease. It can take words from every source and enrich itself. One has no need to run only to the Sanskrit dictionary."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peddana's famous stanza

seems to be borrowed from Kannada. From తెలుగు - కన్నడములలో ఆదాన ప్రదానాలు
by జానుమద్ది హనుమచ్ఛాస్ర్తీ:
"అల్లసాని పెద్దనకు దాదాపు మూడు వందల సంవత్సరాల క్రితం వుండిన మల్లికార్జున కవి
‘నిరుపహతి స్థలంబు మృదుకరాసన, మెళ్లుణి సింపు దంబులం
సరసిద పుస్తక వ్రతతి లేఖక వాచక సంహ్రం, నిరం
తర గృహ నిశ్చిత స్థితి, విచారక సంగతి, సత్కళత్ర సా
దరతయునొళ్ళ సత్కవియు మీనుప దాగె కావ్యనార్థియుం’
‘నిరుపహతి స్థలంబు రమణీప్రి ధూతిక తెచ్చి యిచ్చు క
ప్పురవిడె మాత్మ కింపయిన భోజన మాయల మంచ మెప్పు త
తప్పరయు రసజ్ఞ లూహ తెలియంగల లేఖక పాఠకోత్తముల్
దొరికిన గాక యూరక గృతుల్ రచియింపుమటన్న శక్యమే!’’
ఈ పద్యం కన్నడ పద్యానువాదంగా కనిపిస్తుంది."

ఆంధ్రుల కథ by MVR Sastry

ఆంధ్రుల కథ. Interesting story of struggles for an Andhra state from 1911 onwards upto the current problems. Flavour:
"రాజకీయ కల్లలకు ప్రాంతాల ఎల్లలు లేవు. ఒక తెలంగాణ, ఒక రాయలసీమ అనే ఏమిటి... మొత్తం తెలుగుదేశమే తరతరాలుగా తీరని అన్యాయాలకు లోనైంది. నమ్మకూడని వారిని నమ్మి ఘోరంగా మోసపోయింది. నీతులమారి నేతల సుభాషితాలకు భ్రమసి, గోమాయువులమీద అమాయకంగా ఆశలు పెంచుకుని అడుగడుగునా అడియాసల పాలైంది. తడవకో రకంగా దగాపడింది. కడచిన నూరేళ్ల ఆంధ్రావని చరిత్ర అబద్ధాల పుట్ట. కపటాల కట్ట. నమ్మకద్రోహాల చిట్టా. ఏ ప్రాంతపు ప్రారబ్ధానికి ఆ ప్రాంతపు నాయక ప్రబుద్ధులే మొదటి ముద్దాయిలు. మనవాళ్లనుకున్నవారే మొదటినుంచీ మనకు పగవాళ్లు."
(Thanks to Kodavatiganti Rohiniprasad)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some popular music from Pakistan

See Jhoom (Ali Zafar) – Music Review
Though I always enjoyed music, it is mostly confined to film songs in Telugu and hindi ( a language which I do not understand but am planning to learn) and popular music that I randomly come across. Carnatic music has been a no-go area even though I sometimes I heard my mother practicing; I remember her rendering of film songs better particularly those from Rattan. Recently I read a couple of books on South Indian Classical music By Amanda Weidman and Lakshmi Subramaniam
Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern:The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India and
From the Tanjore Court to the Madras Music Academy: A Social History of Music in South India.

There is a fascinating overview of some of these books in From Threatened by Modernity to Reinvented by Modernity: The History of the History of Indian Classical Music 1980 – 2006 by Garrett Fileld. Excerpts:
"This paper has shown how Weidman and Subramanian’s conclusions differed from those of Neuman and Higgins. While Neuman and Higgins argued Indian classical music was threatened by modernity the latter argued that it was created in modernity and argued that the Brahman middle class undertook the project to modernize, spiritualize, standardize and disseminate their brand of Indian classical music because music was emblematic of the very nation for which they sought independence.
It is clear that the works of Anderson and Chatterjee have significantly influenced the shift in historicism of Indian classical music in the modern period. Yet, as mentioned above, confining an investigation into this paradigm shift to only texts reduces change to the words of scholars. It ignores the historical context in which they wrote. Thus, I propose scholars write histories of modern scholarly patronage. Studying the ideological climate at American Universities where Neuman and Higgins studied and worked, compared with Weidman and Subramanian’s milieu, would be a first step."
But I am nowhere near understanding why I do not like Carnatic music ( I did like a couple of pieces by Mangalampalli balamuralikrishna).

Annie Zaidi on urban women's lives in modern India, and how that has changed over a generation

What happened was that she learnt to walk, and then, I did too

Lamia Karim on the fall of Muhammad Yunus

From Lamia Karim: The fall of Muhammad Yunus and its consequences for the women of Grameen Bank:
"With more than 9 million borrowers, the resource-rich Grameen Bank is a formidable vote bank. If its charismatic leader goes into politics, he can take away votes from Hasina’s ruling party, although he cannot undermine the party. Moreover, government bureaucrats, such as the director of the Bangladesh Bank, find Yunus as a law unto himself because of his international stature. Bureaucrats feel that Grameen Bank (and other NGOs) receive donor funds that should go to the government. Finally, there are ongoing turf battles among the largest microfinance NGOs in the country. The removal of Yunus and the weakening of Grameen Bank would give these competitor NGOs an advantage to recruit “credit-worthy” members, and to create more power and resources for themselves. It is this toxic brew of power and envy that has embroiled Nobel laureate Yunus in a legal dispute with the current government.

In the western fetishization of this iconic individual, the real issue is that the ever-deepening debt crisis for poor women is forgotten. And that is the saddest part of the story."

Tanurabh Khaitan on the Jan Lokpal Bill

On the 'movement' against corruption :
"Our politicians, and indeed most people with requisite influence, manage to avoid convictions not just for corruption but for all other crimes, including murder. Nor are the politicians the only people who are corrupt - what about the corporate houses only recently exposed in the Radia tapes? Structural reform of the criminal justice system does not translate into sexy slogan, but then India Against Corruption's Jan Lokpal Bill will do nothing to address the problem of corruption, and create others we can do without."

Thursday, April 07, 2011

From Telugu blogs

Some rare articles from blogs organized by Innaiah Narisetti and others కవిరాజు హేతువాదం -సూతపురాణం-AGK masterly analysis. See also the Narla blog V.R. Narla. Some of these are possibly parts of the struggles between rationalists and tradilaists long ago. There are also possibly some caste connotations. But there is no doubt that V.R. Narla and AGK were outstanding influences in their era and these documents are valuable resources. Innaiah published a political hisory book Political History of Andhra Pradesh - Narisetti Innaiah, which I found strange. There are lot of refrences and lists at the end but very few references in the body of the book. Without refrences to contemporary books or newspapers, it is difficult to know which are fact and which are stories modified by memories. There was a reference to Ongole Zilla Parishad in the thirties and when I enquired whether there was a such so early, the author asserted in the affirmative without giving any verifiable sources. Still, the lists and references at the end will be useful, I think. Innaiah is known for his support of various progressive causes The Other Attack on Taslima Nasrin at Hyderabad .

Student innovations

Student innovations use simple tech to solve everyday problems

The Geography of Poverty

from The Atlantic The Geography Of Poverty

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Marx in brief

See the comments in Brad DeLong's postWhat Was Karl Marx's Principal Contribution?

On India's World Cup victory

Dhoni acknowledges role of quartet
Vivek Menezes has a cautionary article Get a grip, India!. There are many good points in the article but I see it slightly differently. Many of the Indian players come from middle classes without many political or family connections. Eknath Solkar from Bombay was the son of a groundsman. M.S. Dhoni was ticket collecror in the railways for three years. Apart from giving hope and pride to several middle class and poor people, cricket also seems to some thing of uniting factor in a country with so much diversity like India. Many players came from different parts of the country and belong to different religions. The politics which plagued games like hockey seem to have subsided to a large extent in cricket. Influential players like saurav Ganguly backed players from many parts of the country outside Bengal. May be at the moment cricket's popularity cannot be begrudged. Perhaps similar events are taking place in Pakistan and Sri lanka too. There is also a tendency to define one country against the other which is unfortunate Indians Not As Large-Hearted As Pakistanis: Afridi
P.S. It seems that there are a number of scholarly works on cricket in India. There are some references in Cricket and Indian National consciousness by Emily Crick. In a different direction, there is an interesting paper by Aniruth Krishna and Eric Haglund Why do Some Countries Win More Olympic Medals? Lessons for Social Mobilty and Poverty Reduction in terms of 'effective participating population'.
P.P.S.Dhoni's 91 one of the greatest innings: Michael Atherton

Saturday, April 02, 2011

George Monbiot on nuclear power

Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power:
"You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation."

I still think that we have to wait awhile to guage the effects.

All those stories

about Condom problem for Indian men may be correct: The Penis Size Worldwide (country) (link via Ed Yong)