Watch where your head is

on Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This week's Economist cover focuses on the growing importance of latin america.

The clever illustration shows latin america on the northern hemisphere and the USA on the southern hemisphere.

It reminds me of this vintage scene in "The West Wing", where a group of cartographers explain how a map details much more than geographical location. It also illustrates geopolitical importance.

How to open a new book ?

on Monday, September 6, 2010
Here's a lovely illustration of how to open a new book.

In the days of nook and kindle and ipad, such illustrations may soon become archaic. Already, I look at them the way I regard cave paintings (how to light a flintstone; how to capture a wooly mammoth).

Companies all over are battling with huge book inventories that don't have a hope of selling.

Meanwhile, new  companies  such as Espresso are ushering in print-on-demand technologies.

Soon, any book we read is probably going to be mint-fresh literally.

And such illustrations may yet have a hope of being useful.

How much is that humor-machine on the window ?

on Thursday, September 2, 2010

There are those that think automating humor is nothing more than a big joke.
And then there are those that think its an incredulous waste of money.

NU prof: Computer research no joke :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Technology

And then there those that believe its a way of modelling the way the brain works.

And then there are those that like me, who feel a little disconcerted thinking of a day when we're going to be so dependent on computers for even a quick joke.

Humour is possibly a recently evolved trait and therefore more susceptible to erosion.

What if all that's left of humans is the ability to understand jokes but not be able to actually make a joke. It can happen!

What if computers ( cloud, cluster) take over the world by telling us really good jokes ? (Gasp!)

I speak, therefore I think!

on Monday, August 30, 2010

This Comment if Free article at the Guardian talks about how buzz-words can trick us into believing the wrong sort of thing.

"But then, that's the beauty of language. It can change the way you see things without actually altering anything in the physical realm. It turns good into bad and bad into good and back again without anyone lifting a finger."

And the NyTimes takes a more pedantic approach.

NY Times explains how the words we use to describe the world may affect the way we perceive our world.

"The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same."

Guess what's coming for dinner!


Grub, is a diner in Brooklyn where meals are made from food that would have otherwise been wasted.

A place where the menu can never can get too boring, or the history of the ingredients too intriguing.

Outlook India's Blogs

on Thursday, August 26, 2010

My current addiction : Reading op-eds.

And I love for rounding up opinion articles across the web. The Atlantic, is understandably biased towards covering issues of concern in the United Issues.

In the largest democracy of the world, I've found it hard to come across a one-stop shop for opinions.

Blogs at Outlook India does a decent job of it and so far, I am loving it.

To discuss or to conclude ?


Dr Marc Hauser, a primate psychologist,
has recently been charged with 8 counts of scientific misconduct by Harvard University.

I wrote to Dr Marc Hauser while applying to grad school and for what its worth, he was a thorough gentleman. There was no need for him to reply to a student that was clueless about neuroscience. He was clearly interested in teaching. He, and his papers, were instrumental in initiating my journey into neuroscience. They never failed to convey a sense of possibility. But, I have long since diverged from his particular area of expertise.

Dr Marc Hauser has recently been charged with scientific misconduct. A lot of his science consists of observing monkeys by only ever so slightly changing the wild environment that monkeys are used to. Data from these kinds of set ups are inherently hard to figure out and not amenable to extremely thorough statistical analysis. Even then, some things can be gleaned.

Dr Marc Hauser believes that much about the way humans think (and therefore behave) can be learnt from the way monkeys behave. And that much is true. How much we can really learn is a different matter, one that is and should be fully debated. But that we can learn nothing at all, as many will want to believe after this incident, is really stupid (for lack of a more direct word). I happen to work with monkeys as well. My experiments are rooted in solid science. But when I'm only plainly interacting with them, it's not hard to see that they're very much like humans. When you come out into the city and watch a bunch of humans, it never passes your mind that they act very similarly to the monkeys in your lab; much more than other pets such as dogs and cats are. It is hard not to find yourself anthropomorphizing, but it is an ability that must be mastered if any good science is to be done at all.

It took me a while to learn to take very seriously what is said in the Results and Analysis section in a Journal Paper while to no more than consider what is said in the Discussion section of the paper. One is cold truth. The other is an addictive trail to a magical fairlyland where all sorts of wondrous things are possible. The way of science is to repeat and replicate what is said in the Results and Analysis section and to test what is conjectured in the discussion section. Progress is made either when many wondrous things, turn out in fact, to be possible or when we can confidently say that some things belong to fairlyland.

Perhaps Marc Hauser's error was that he confused Discussions and Results. And it is a practiced art to know your limits, to stop yourself from going too far, to stop yourself from insisting rather than conjecturing.

Marc Hauser is credited with bringing the entire field of evolutionary cognition to the fore. But his irresponsible behavior (if that is what it is) must not be condoned. But often, because of the way humans are, we can do a double flip and throw a whole field of science out of the window. And it can take years before we come to reconcile with it again. There are those of us who will now insist that all of his science (and those of his trainees) is absolute trash. But maybe, if we thought of all his studies as Discussions rather than Results and Analysis, academia can find a way to not only make peace with it, but to improve the science itself, instead of abandoning it.