Saturday, March 29, 2014

Think Different

I just read about this teenager who figured out a simple and an ingenious idea to save a lot of money for the Federal government. Read about it here. Isn't this beautiful? We would have never thought about a typeface making a lot of difference and apparently it does, which is not entirely an inconceivable notion.

I keep reading about these kids doing big things in high school. They develop complicated biomedical instruments, power saving contraptions and so on which always makes me think that their parents would have helped them with it (though I might be completely wrong, in which case it is remarkable). I suppose I am deeply suspicious of kids doing mind-blowingly awesome things in high school, by themselves, having been witness to many, many Tiger Moms. That is still not that big a deal in the bigger spectrum of things, but I know how it is for reporters to blow things out of proportion, call the kid the next Steve Jobs only to put inordinate pressure on the kid to perform later in life. I remember something similar happened with an Indian kid a few months before where he created a new operating system of sorts that made the Indian media go bonkers. There was this huge thread in Reddit where they myth busted the awesomeness of this operating system.

When I was in high school, one of the Tamil Magazines opened up an application to come up with the next big public policy idea to revolutionize India. The prize was a Compaq PC which was incredibly hot at that time. I remember spending days holed up with my mother trying to brainstorm and come up with the greatest idea ever. We never did. My mother was prone to sending out essay, stories and jokes to Tamil magazines in my name. Thankfully, most of them did not get published. Some of them did, but they were mostly restricted to the realm of kitchen tips in women's magazines. At one point I had middle aged women spotting me out in weddings and telling me how good my idea for scrubbing kitchen counters with pumice stone was, which is when I put my foot down on the state of affairs. My mother sullenly took up my grandmother's name for her future publishing endeavors. Now you can understand my natural skepticism for the limitless projected potential of high school students. When I was in eighth grade, this shady article appeared in a shadier magazine that was literally titled " Flower Bouquet " on how I plan to become an IAS officer. The readership of Flower Bouquet magazine was probably a sum total of fifty people which includes the publisher, the parents of the kids who write in the magazine and the relatives who get forced by these parents to read the "featured" articles. Despite the small damage the limited viewership can wreak on kids, I think it a very presumptuous thing for parents ghost for their children and then make the child take credit. Somehow it feels that they are setting dangerous precedent about taking credit for someone else's work without a twinge of remorse.

However, what makes me happy about this typeface idea is that it is so simple and fantastic without the usual frills of transistors or gene modification or cancer curing drug. It is definitely something that a high school student could have conceived and executed by himself without parental help, which to even to me, feels very convincing and weirdly, reassuring.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What if I am tricked?

One of my friends posted this video up on Facebook. It is about Assistant Professor Chao-Lin Kuo surprising Professor Andrei Linde at Stanford with evidence that supports cosmic inflation theory.

Now, I don't know anything about cosmic inflation theory. But this video made me smile so much at the professor's look of disbelief and wonder when his colleague says at the door "five sigma, as clear as a day, with a R of 0.2".

After a rather crappy day of trying to break the will of this obdurate block of data, I was deep down in the dumps. Seriously, there is nothing that sucks the morale out of someone like staring at Excel all day long without food.

This video added a little more perspective to why I signed up for this deal.

The professor goes on to say (after looking at the results, of course) "What if I am tricked", then looking lost, probably in the poignancy of the moment, slowly and deliberately adds "What if I want to believe in this just because it is beautiful?"

I guess being with people like this who "want" to believe in things just because the said things are beautiful, is what makes my own little world filled with vindictive and egregiously large p values, worth it - however academically unacceptable they may be.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Going forward

I really have to get going and hence will keep it short. Today also marks the first year of getting my admit in CMU. That is sort of all the birthday gifts (wrapped in one brief email) that I could have hoped for as a kid. It is a fitting tribute to this occasion that I have a test tomorrow and I ended up studying.

In the immortal words of Ron Swanson, birthdays were invented by Hallmark to sell cards. I concur. For most people, birthday is a time to stop, introspect and make an assessment. For someone who wanders about introspecting all the time and procrastinating everything worth assessing, birthday is one more day I expect the world to go out of its way and pamper me. Up until now, it has happened only once.

Yes, my days are along the lines of looking under rocks in the creek. And of course, I am happy doing that.

The title is a bad pun on my birthday - March Fourth. It sounds like an order - March forth. Right Ho!