Friday, November 30, 2007

Of mistakes and mindsets

As we get older, many of us invest a great deal in being right. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, we focus on flagellating ourselves, blaming someone else or covering it up. Or we rationalize it by saying others make even more mistakes.

What we do not want to do, most of the time, is learn from the experience.

Professor Dweck, who wrote a book on the subject called “Mindset” (Random House, 2006), proved this point in another study, this one of college students. They were divided into two camps: those who did readings about how intelligence is fixed, and those who learned that intelligence could grow and develop if you worked at it.

The students then took a very tough test on which most did badly. They were given the option of bolstering their self-esteem in two ways: looking at scores and strategies of those who did worse or those who did better.

Those in the fixed mind-set chose to compare themselves with students who had performed worse, as opposed to those Professor Dweck refers to as in “the growth mind-set,” who more frequently chose to learn by looking at those who had performed better.

Read this piece by Alina Tugend.

Harvard chronicles: Outsourcing of scholarship

Jacob Hale Russell has a pretty damning article about how some Harvard professors outsource the hard work of scholarship to their underlings. Charles Ogletree, Alan Dershowitz, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Roland Fryer are some of the biggies mentioned in the article. Here's Russell's strongest case -- that of Ogletree:

In September 2004, Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School, found himself having to admit that his latest book, All Deliberate Speed, contained six paragraphs lifted verbatim from a book by Yale professor Jack Balkin, What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said. Equally surprising was the fact that Ogletree hadn’t known about the plagiarism, which occurred in a passage about the history of desegregation efforts, until he was told of it by Balkin himself.

“I accept full responsibility for this error,” Ogletree said in a statement. But some readers of that statement might have gotten a different impression: Ogletree attributed the plagiarism to two research assistants: “Material from Professor Jack Balkin’s book … was inserted … by one of my assistants for the purpose of being reviewed, researched, and summarized by another research assistant with proper attribution … Unfortunately, the second assistant, under the pressure of meeting a deadline, inadvertently deleted this attribution and edited the text as though it had been written by me. The second assistant then sent a revised draft to the publisher.”

It was a curious admission. In other words, at least some of Ogletree’s manuscript was sent to his publisher without having been read by the person supposed to have written it. ...

Somewhere in the middle, Harvard's policy on plagiarism is also excepted:

Students who, for whatever reason, submit work either not their own or without clear attribution to its sources will be subject to disciplinary action, and ordinarily required to withdraw from the College.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cory Doctorow on Facebook

First, the link. Let's start with some snark:

... Facebook has all the social graces of a nose-picking, hyperactive six-year-old, standing at the threshold of your attention and chanting, "I know something, I know something, I know something, won't tell you what it is!"

What follows then is some serious criticism. Here's one of the points:

If there was any doubt about Facebook's lack of qualification to displace the Internet with a benevolent dictatorship/walled garden, it was removed when Facebook unveiled its new advertising campaign. Now, Facebook will allow its advertisers use the profile pictures of Facebook users to advertise their products, without permission or compensation. Even if you're the kind of person who likes the sound of a benevolent dictatorship this clearly isn't one.

And here's another:

You'd think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for [getting back in touch with your old friends from school, etc.]. It's not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there's a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I'd cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, "Am I your friend?" yes or no, this instant, please.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nature's secrets and curiosity based research ...

... lead to wall-climbing robots! Watch this video of an exciting TED talk by Robert Full of Berkeley's Biology Department.

Diversity at Berkeley

63 percent of the campus’s undergraduate students (excluding international students) were either born outside the United States or have at least one foreign-born parent.


Blog headers, cybercafes in Bandra, new ways of ranking batsmen, cricket ads, T-shirts with India-centric slogans

Sujatha has a nice pic for her blog's header.

Charu has a short post on the large scale transformation of cybercafes in Bandra, Mumbai, into gaming parlours. I just noticed that her blog's header also has a nice pic.

* * *

Confused is impressed by Indian Cricket League's "genuinely funny ads."

Talking about cricket, Tim Harford points us to Vani K. Borooah and John Mangan's academic study (pdf) of ranking batsmen based on batting averages that take into account, among other things, the utility of their scores to their teams. Here's the abstract:

Batsmen in cricket are invariably ranked according to their batting average. Such a ranking suffers from two defects. First, it does not take into account the consistency of scores across innings: a batsman might have a high career average but with low scores interspersed with high scores; another might have a lower average but with much less variation in his scores. Second, it pays no attention to the “value” of the player’s runs to the team: arguably, a century, when the total score is 600, has less value compared to a half-century in an innings total of, say, 200. The purpose of this paper is to suggest new ways of computing batting averages which, by addressing these deficiencies, complement the existing method and present a more complete picture of batsmen’s performance. Based on these “new” averages, the paper offers a “new” ranking of the top 50 batsmen in the history of Test Cricket.

Fans of Sachin Tendulkar are unlikely to like the conclusions of this study!

* * *

Blue is trying to monetize her recent four-month long stint in (and tour of) India.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Famous feud ...

This real-life story is about two highly accomplished doctors who recently ended their nearly 40-year old feud. It reads like a bad novel that somehow manages to hold your attention. While you have to read the story for the details, here's something about one of the parties to the feud:

[Dr. Denton A. Cooley] recalled that a lawyer had once asked him during a trial if he considered himself the best heart surgeon in the world.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Don’t you think that’s being rather immodest?” the lawyer asked.

“Perhaps,” Dr. Cooley responded. “But remember I’m under oath.”

The other doctor was the hero of a different story last year: at 97, Dr. Michael DeBakey went through a complex heart surgery that he invented several decades ago.

How to teach meditation to geeks ...

You've got to go check out this cartoon! [Link via Ziked -- see the comments below.]

Monday, November 26, 2007

M.S. Ananth's lecture

The sixteenth Kumari L.A. Meera Memorial Lecture was delivered by Prof. M.S. Ananth (Director, IIT-M) yesterday at the Indian Institute of World Culture. He spoke on "The changing environment of higher education and some India-centric concerns."

I have posted the text of his lecture here with his permission. Here's the abstract from the printed version of the lecture:

Indian philosophy emphasizes certain timeless values that have not been integrated into modern education. A brief history of education is followed by some ideas about teaching methodology and the learning process. The importance of education in values, and the catalytic role of a nationalistic spirit, are pointed out. The problems of integrating technical and scientific higher education with an appropriate value system, and conveying the significance of the philosophical principles of our deep thinkers in a modern idiom, are highlighted.

Thanks to my colleague Anant (who is also one of the trustees of the Kumari L.A. Meera Memorial Trust) for sending me the soft copy of the lecture.

Alan Krueger on "what makes a terrorist"

Krueger is guest-blogging at TPM Cafe this week. His first post (here), titled "What makes a terrorist", summarizes the key findings from his book with the same title. Towards the end of the post, he talks about the role of education:

Sidebar: Here are the links to Krueger's posts:

What makes a terrorist.

Defining terrorism.

* * *

What makes a terrorist, then, is someone with a fanatical commitment to pursuing a grievance combined with the perception that there are few alternatives for pursuing that grievance – and a terrorist organization or cell willing to deploy a would-be terrorist. Poverty and lack of education play very little role. Indeed, education may have a counterintuitive effect because highly educated people are more likely to become involved politically and to hold strong opinions. Increasing educational attainment does many wonderful things for a country and its people, but reducing terrorism is not one of them.

The following analogy is particularly interesting:

Many people implicitly view terrorism the same way they view crime: those with low opportunity costs and few legitimate opportunities turn to crime. I argue that a better analogy for terrorism is to voting. People who care about issues vote, even though they often have a higher opportunity cost of time than nonvoters. Terrorists and the organizations that dispatch them seek to make political statements. What makes a terrorist thus depends on the political grievances that terrorists and their organizations are pursuing and the alternatives for pursing those grievances.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Is Freud taught in American universities?

Yes, but not (or, not much) in psychology departments! Some excerpts:

Psychoanalysis and its ideas about the unconscious mind have spread to every nook and cranny of the culture from Salinger to “South Park,” from Fellini to foreign policy. Yet if you want to learn about psychoanalysis at the nation’s top universities, one of the last places to look may be the psychology department. ...

[A recent study by the American Psychoanalytic Association] ... is the latest evidence of the field’s existential crisis. For decades now, critics engaged in the Freud Wars have pummeled the good doctor’s theories for being sexist, fraudulent, unscientific, or just plain wrong. In their eyes, psychoanalysis belongs with discarded practices like leeching.

Alice Eagly, the chairwoman of the psychology department at Northwestern University, explained why: Psychoanalysis is “not the mainstream anymore” and so “we give it less weight.”

The primary reason it became marginalized, Ms. Eagly, said, is that while most disciplines in psychology began putting greater emphasis on testing the validity of their approaches scientifically, “psychoanalysts haven’t developed the same evidence-based grounding.” As a result, most psychology departments don’t pay as much attention to psychoanalysis. ...

Big Pharma: The "finely titrated doses of friendship" edition

Do read this piece by Daniel Carlat (a professor of clinical psychiatry at Tufts) about one of the shadier techniques used by Big Pharma: hiring doctors as glorified sales reps.

* * *


Two related articles cited by Dr. Carlat in his article:

Christopher Lee in the Washington Post: Drugmakers, Doctors Get Cozier.

Adriane Fugh-Berman, Shahram Ahari in PLoS: Following the Script: How Drug Reps Make Friends and Influence Doctors.

* * *

A few weeks later, my wife and I walked through the luxurious lobby of the Millennium Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. At the reception desk, when I gave my name, the attendant keyed it into the computer and said, with a dazzling smile: “Hello, Dr. Carlat, I see that you are with the Wyeth conference. Here are your materials.”

She handed me a folder containing the schedule of talks, an invitation to various dinners and receptions and two tickets to a Broadway musical. “Enjoy your stay, doctor.” I had no doubt that I would, though I felt a gnawing at the edge of my conscience. This seemed like a lot of money to lavish on me just so that I could provide some education to primary-care doctors in a small town north of Boston.

Along the way, we learn about how the American Medical Association allows data leak on who prescribes what:

The American Medical Association is also a key player in prescription data-mining. Pharmacies typically will not release doctors’ names to the data-mining companies, but they will release their Drug Enforcement Agency numbers. The A.M.A. licenses its file of U.S. physicians, allowing the data-mining companies to match up D.E.A. numbers to specific physicians. The A.M.A. makes millions in information-leasing money.

Once drug companies have identified the doctors, they must woo them. In the April 2007 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine, Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman of Georgetown teamed up with Ahari (the former drug rep) to describe the myriad techniques drug reps use to establish relationships with physicians, including inviting them to a speaker’s meeting. These can serve to cement a positive a relationship between the rep and the doctor. This relationship is crucial, they say, since “drug reps increase drug sales by influencing physicians, and they do so with finely titrated doses of friendship.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

Links: E-friends, Shock Doctrine, Creative Commons, Neuroeconomics

E-friends by Tabula Rasa.

In These Times: The New Road to Serfdom (review of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism) by Chris Hayes.

Locus Online: Creative Commons by Cory Doctorow.

Eureka Alerts: Money motivates -- especially when your colleague gets less [via Mark Thoma].

Reason: Theory of Moral Neuroscience by Ronald Bailey.

Do you need to go undercover to check air quality?

The answer appears to be 'yes' when it's a cigar show where you are checking for air quality. I still can't figure out why the researchers were afraid of hostile treatment at the cigar show, but anyways, here are the results [you'll have to go to the article for the fun bits]:

Under Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, air with fewer than 15 micrograms per cubic meter is considered good quality; air with more than 251 micrograms per cubic meter is hazardous.

Mr. Kennedy’s preliminary findings showed that the average level of particulate matter in the hotel [the venue for the cigar show] the day before the event was 8 micrograms per cubic meter, 40 micrograms where he was waiting to get in line for the event and 1,193 micrograms inside the ballroom.

Thanks to Olive Ridley for the pointer.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Big Pharma: The anti-depressant edition

[David] Healy doesn't deny that SSRIs can be effective against mood disorders, and he has prescribed them to his own patients. As a psychopharmacologist, however, he saw from the outset that the drug firms were pushing a simplistic "biobabble" myth whereby depression supposedly results straightforwardly from a shortfall of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. No such causation has been established, and the proposal is no more reasonable than claiming that headaches arise from aspirin deprivation.... But by insistently urging this idea upon physicians and the public, Big Pharma widened its net for recruiting patients, who could be counted upon to reason as follows: "I feel bad; I must lack serotonin in my brain; these serotonin-boosting pills will surely do the trick." ... Thus millions of people who might have needed only counseling were exposed to incompletely explained risks.

There's more in this book review by Frederick C. Crews. The stuff about the effect of anti-depressant medication in normal (or, mildly depressed) people is truly scary:

Those risks, Healy perceived, included horrific withdrawal symptoms, such as dizziness, anxiety, nightmares, nausea, and constant agitation, that were frightening some users out of ever terminating their regimen—an especially bitter outcome in view of the manufacturers' promise of enhancing self-sufficiency and peace of mind. The key proclaimed advantage of the new serotonin drugs over the early tranquilizers, freedom from dependency, was simply false. ...

As for the frequently rocky initial weeks of treatment, a troubling record not just of "suicidality" but of actual suicides and homicides was accumulating in the early 1990s. The drug firms, Healy saw, were distancing themselves from such tragedies by blaming depression itself for major side effects. ...

The most gripping portions of Let Them Eat Prozac narrate courtroom battles in which Big Pharma's lawyers, parrying negligence suits by the bereaved, took this line of doubletalk to its limit by explaining SSRI-induced stabbings, shootings, and self-hangings by formerly peaceable individuals as manifestations of not-yet-subdued depression. As an expert witness for plaintiffs against SSRI makers in cases involving violent behavior, Healy emphasized that depressives don't commit mayhem.

Is there really a shortage of scientists and engineers in the US?

Just check if their earnings are rising (and if they are rising faster than for other workers):

Concerns about the science and engineering job market are not rooted in a classic labor market shortage. The earnings of scientists and engineers are not rising rapidly, relative to other highly educated workers. There are no massive job vacancies in academe, business, or government. If rapidly rising pay is the primary signal of a market shortage, then the United States has a shortfall of CEOs, professional athletes, entertainers, and hedge fund managers, not scientific and engineering specialists.

Then why is there a serious concern about this 'problem'? Click on that link for Richard B. Freeman's discussion of perceived problems.

Thanks to Mark Thoma for the pointer.

Foreign students earning PhD degrees in the US

In total, foreign born researchers accounted for nearly 35 percent of all doctorates granted in 2006 (15,947 of 45,596), and for 43 percent of the Ph.D.’s awarded in scientific and engineering fields (12,775 of 29,854). Non-citizens accounted for more than 70 percent of doctorate recipients in electrical, civil and industrial/mechanical engineering, and more than half of Ph.D. recipients in all other engineering fields, computer sciences, math and physics.

Those phenomenal numbers are from this story by Doug Lederman. The underlying data are from this NSF report.

In case you were wondering: the number of Indians receiving science and engineering PhDs from US universities was 1524 in the year 2006. I don't have the corresponding figure for the number of PhDs awarded by Indian universities, but going by an earlier NSF report (see this post), this figure was 6318 in 2003. Thus, the number of Indians getting a PhD abroad is a pretty substantial fraction -- over 20 percent just for the US -- of the total number.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A sad loss

We were all stunned to learn yesterday that R. Chitra, a doctoral student in our Department, took her own life the previous night.

Chitra was someone who always presented a cheerful smile to the rest of the world. This smile seems to have prevented even her close friends from suspecting that she was contemplating such a drastic step. In fact, a student recalls that, just a few hours before Chitra took that step, she talked about an upcoming exam and about her preparations for it ...

There have been a few press reports (here, here, here, here), and they raise questions, particularly about the ethics of private hospitals that turn away people -- like Chitra -- in need of emergency care.

But, those questions will have to wait for later. This is the time for mourning.

* * *

Arati has a sensitive post. And, so does Ranjani.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nandigram protest at Bangalore

Dhimant and friends staged a street play as a part of yesterday's protest against the horrible violence unleashed in Nandigram by CPI(M) goons. He has some pics from that event. Unsurprisingly, there was no report in the newspaper that Rahul said good bye to because of its atrocious coverage of (and its biased editorial on) this issue. [Update: I was wrong. The Hindu did publish a story on the protest on MG Road, Bangalore. Thanks to commenter Arka for the pointer.]

Outlook's story on CPI(M)'s "recapture" of Nandigram is here. Over at Countercurrents, there's a revealing comparison of Narendra Modi and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (pdf; link via Bhaskar, whose own take is here).

Bangalore links

There's a new web initiative with a focus on Bengalooru: Citizen Matters, with a neat tag line: "Speak up. It's your city." The site is still in alpha (but it has already been mentioned in Chugs' blog), so it still has some ways to go -- for example, it does not offer a web feed. Let's wait and see how it develops.

* * *

After this post on restaurants near IISc, I went looking for websites that specialize in this topic. I came across Burrp!. Here's its list of Malleswaram restaurants. Being a Web 2.0 site, it offers networking possibilities for its users, whose profile page lists their restaurant reviews. For example, take a look at the profile of Meenakshi, who blogs at Bangalore Belly.

Then, there's Hungry Bangalore that offers with basic info on eateries (I couldn't find any reviews, though). Their "locate restaurant" feature is nice: here's the Hallimane page -- click on "Locate Hallimane" for a Google Maps pop-up!

Sovereign funds

Two articles about these huge funds. Here's the first, by Economic Principals' David Warsh:

... As long as these vast sums of money are managed professionally and transparently, they will be no different from any other large pool of wealth -- pension funds, insurance portfolios, mutual funds. They may, of course, be used for strategic purposes instead: to buy controlling interests in companies that may be deemed inappropriate for one reason or another. China buying IBM's laptop business is one thing; but what if China sought to buy Microsoft? Or Boeing? What happens when state-dominated enterprises like Russia's natural gas giant, Gazprom, seek to enter new markets? The possibilities for mischief here, not to mention losses, are very real.

And here's the second, by New Yorker's James Surowiecki:

... While these funds are not new—they first rose to prominence in the seventies, as a way for Arab states to reinvest their oil money—of late they’ve become major players in global markets, thanks to the precipitous rise in oil prices and the booming Chinese economy. China’s new sovereign fund alone has two hundred billion dollars to invest, while sovereign wealth funds all together control more than two and a half trillion dollars—and could control as much as twelve trillion by 2015. These funds now have the buying power to shape market prices and acquire assets throughout the developed world. Were China’s fund so inclined, it could buy Ford, G.M., Volkswagen, and Honda, and still have a little money left over for ice cream.

Not surprisingly, Western politicians aren’t thrilled by this prospect. ...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Timberites are having too much fun ...

... at the expense of libertarians and evolutionary   psychologists. Do check out the comments!

China Mieville's article on the pathetic state of the "libertarian ship" project (which led to that riot at Crooked Timber) is here.

Why is Facebook doing this?

After ranting about Shelfari recently, I guess I have become a little sensitive to websites implementing things that are wonderful for them and their partners, but (potentially) harmful to their users.

Read the posts by Ethan Zuckerman and David Weinberger for the latest move by Facebook that could seriously compromise its users' privacy. As both of them acknowledge, the idea itself is quite neat and some users may like it enough to go for it, but the key to getting its implementation right is in getting the defaults right. Here's Weinberger:

When Blockbuster gives you the popup asking if you want to let your Facebook friends know about your rental, if you do not respond in fifteen seconds, the popup goes away ... and a "yes" is sent to Facebook. Wow, is that not what should happen! Not responding far more likely indicates confusion or dismissal-through-inaction than someone thinking "I'll save myself the click."

Further, we are not allowed to opt out of the system. At your Facebook profile, you can review a list of all the sites you've been to that have presented you with the Facebook spam-your-friends option, and you can opt out of the sites one at a time. But you cannot press a big red button that will take you out of the system entirely. So, if you've deselected Blockbuster and the Manly Sexual Inadequacy Clinic from the list, if you go to a new site that's done the deal with Facebook, you'll get the popup again there. We should be allowed to Just Say No, once and for all.

Why? Because privacy is not just about information. It's all about the defaults.

Hungry, kya?

Tejaswi lists some of the classic eateries in South Bangalore, with a promise to cover other parts soon. In Malleswaram (in the northern part that includes IISc), my favorite is the Janata Cafe on the 8th Cross Street. The Iyer mess is also fabulous.

The last couple of years has seen the opening of some pretty nice places in Malleswaram. Food Camp from the legendary Asha Sweets group (10th Cross and First Main) and Adiga's (15th Cross and Sampige Road) come to mind immediately.

My own favorite in our Institute's neighbourhood is Megh Sagar (at the Bashyam Circle, Sadashiva Nagar). Several new outlets have come up near this place: Daily Bread (for fancy sandwiches and cakes) and Namdharis (for wonderful salads) are great. They also sell all kinds of imported goodies; a liter of Evian, for example, costs just Rs. 125!

Over on the other side of the Institute, there has been a veritable explosion of shops and restaurants on New BEL Road near the Ramaiah Hospital. The Neel restaurant on the 80-feet Road is our favorite for taking our guests out to -- when someone else is footing the bill!

* * *

I would love to check out the South-Bangalore places listed by Tejaswi, but for the dreadful traffic ...

The link between income inequality and children's well-being ...

... in rich countries. The link is pretty strong -- strong enough for someone to comment that "relative poverty kills as effectively as any disease." Here's the news story [link via Mark Thoma].

Among the 23 rich countries, the UNICEF index of child wellbeing (covering material wellbeing, health and safety, educational wellbeing, family and peer relationships, unhealthy and risky behaviours, and subjective wellbeing) was unrelated to average income, but was strongly related to the size of the income differences between rich and poor within each country.

Findings were similar among the 50 states of the USA. Data were analysed for teenage births, juvenile homicides, infant mortality, low birth weight, educational performance, high school drop-out rate, the proportion of children overweight, and mental health problems. All were more strongly related to the scale of income inequality in each state than to its average income.

John Updike, the reviewer

Harper's Magazine features Wyatt Mason's review of John Updike's stupendous output as a literary critic.

To peruse copies of books that Updike read with the intention of reviewing ... is to meet a reader who, in a most inarguable way, is a picture of thoroughness. The margins run with comments, even in appendices, even by footnotes. “I read slower than I write,” Updike wrote, rather amazingly, in 1975, suggesting that these annotative efforts represent a substantial investment of time. If criticism is, as Terry Eagleton has said, a way of “looking at meaning not as an object but as a practice,” then one can see in Updike’s review copies the humble, rudimentary motions of that practice. As often as not, his marginalia may be seen doing one of the most immediate jobs of criticism, which is to distinguish, however arbitrarily, good things from bad. And yet, in the main, Updike may be spied undertaking a more considered task: that of interrogation. The form of punctuation that predominates in his margins is the question mark. What one is witness to is a patient reader’s private conversation with a book.

Thanks to Guru for the pointer.

Ponderer poses some tough questions!

They are about crackpots who bombard people with e-mails about how great they -- I mean, the crackpots -- are. Here's his description of the e-mails:

I have had the privelege to know many crackpots over the time in grad school, postdoc and now as a faculty. They all share some common traits. For example, the emails they sent are written in ALL CAPS, using fonts of disproportionately gynormous size (like 150), colors, highlighting etc. It's almost as if they all go to the same Crackpot University where they are educated in a proper etiquette of sending crackpottery emails.

And now, the tough questions he asks his readers to help him with:

Are there many chemistry, biology, engineering crackpots, or is it something primarily dominated by physicists (and if so, is Einstein to blame?). What about humanities? I am sure history and politics get their share of crackpots. How about literature or arts?

Friday, November 16, 2007

An Indian supercomputer is at No. 4

Here's the relevant quote from the story in Nature:

The fourth fastest computer is owned by Computational Research Laboratories, a subsidiary of Tata Sons in Pune, India. This supercomputer, a Hewlett-Packard Cluster Platform 3000 BL460c system, computes at 117.9 teraflops per second.

Guru has posted a bunch of links to some of the newspaper reports as well as to this post by Vijay Bharve.

Hyper-realist sculpture

Yeah, I didn't know what it meant either. But I went here to check out some of the work of Ron Mueck, and it's stunning!

Thanks to Chris Hayes for the pointer.

Silicon Valley's cultural icons

The cartoon site xkcd has the story in just five parts. Don Knuth, Richard Stallman, Cory Doctorow, Larry Lessig and several others are featured in this mini-thriller about the adventures of an ├╝bergeek woman. Great stuff!

Here they are: Parts one, two, three, four, and five.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

... Ferenghi man, very odd and chunky!

Watch Tunak Tunak Tun.

I'm following the precedents set by Shripriya (who discovered Benny Lava stuck in my head) and Dilip (who linked to You'll be pumping Ovaltine).

For a pre-YouTube -- err, text -- version (not much different from these "buffalaxed" videos), check out Ramesh Mahadevan having fun with a Ghantasala poem/song. [On the newsgroup "soc.culture.indian", Surya Kavuri posted a transliteration of that Telugu poem, and dared people to "translate it if you can", and Ramesh was responding to a provocative post.]

More on Shelfari's spam invites

This is a follow-up on this post. Tim Spalding (founder of Library Thing, one of whose competitors is Shelfari) has aggregated complaints -- over fifty of them! -- about Shelfari's shady tactics for growing its customer base. In a follow-up post, he presents further evidence of the other icky tactic by Shelfari folks: spam comments on blogs!

Some people have suggested (see this comment, for example) that Shelfari's users always had the option of not giving the company their e-mail id and password. This is not a fair defence of what Shelfari has done. In saying this, I'm not even talking about the design of its web page with its misleading features (pointed out by Proses Anonymitus and Tim Spalding).

I'm talking really about the nastiest thing in Shelfari's spam strategy: it sends invites to almost everyone in the users' addressbooks -- indiscriminately and repeatedly.

If you use GMail, your contacts list has pretty much everyone that you ever mailed to (and everyone who sent you mail or cc-ed you on a mail meant for someone else). Clearly, it has people of all kinds -- not just friends and family, but distant relatives, one-off acquaintances, competitors, and adversaries. In other words, there are people on your addressbook that you just would not want to interact with outside of the e-mail setting. Shelfari has no business sending invites to them, without your clearly expressed permission!

In a previous example of indiscriminate spam invites, Jennifer Golbeck was extremely upset that Gazzag (a social networking site) sent invites to "a couple of [her] exes"! Invites also went to "my boss and colleagues who are in much higher positions than me." Golbeck adds, "Those are people whom I think carefully about emailing, and I would never send them an invitation to a general social network."

In short, this sort of indiscriminate spamming can be professionally very damaging indeed.

A website -- especially one that's into social networking -- should be doing everything it can to protect its users' personal and professional integrity and reputation. This means that the website's default choices for a new user must be on the defensive side, with more aggressive settings to be activated by him/her.

Shelfaris of this wide webby world don't just ignore this basic rule, but choose to go in the opposite direction: they seem to be waiting to exploit their users' vulnerabilities -- their impatience, their lack of attention to detail, their inability to discern the intricacies in the intentionally misleading web pages, and yes, in some cases, their utter cluelessness too!

This is why Shelfari is not just shady; it's evil.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Government control has nothing to do with it!

6. With India's top business schools eager to establish themselves as leading global brands, government control is hugely restrictive, says Prof Dholakia.

This statement is often made but without substantiation. Government intervention is felt mainly in respect of salaries for faculty. As I have said earlier, this is only notional because it's not clear IIMs have the capacity to pay a great deal more. Other than this, I am not aware of anything the government does that comes in the way of developing a global brand.

Developing such a brand is not just about globe-trotting- pitching a tent in Nigeria or Oman- but developing teaching and research capabilities that can compare with those in the top schools abroad. There are hundreds of business schools in India, including the Indian School of Business, that are free from government interference. Not one of them has been able to attain even the level of the IIMs. [Bold emphasis added by me]

That's from T.T. Ram Mohan's fisking of a news story in the Financial Times quoting a several IIM-A and IIM-B faculty whining about how government control has been a major obstacle in IIMs' march towards world-class-ness.

Professorial musings on sartorial troubles

Following up on the previous post, here are links to two more: Brad DeLong and (through his post) ProfGrrrrl.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Matching colors

ScienceWoman asks, "Do guys ever think about this stuff?" I don't know about the others, but I certainly don't!


That's the number of Indian students studying in American universities during 2006-07, about 14 percent of all foreign students (582,984).

The Inside Higher Ed story is here. The Open Doors report is here; some data tables are available for free, but some -- such as data on academic level and place of origin -- are not.

Another document (doc, accessed from this page) with India-specific data tells us that over 71 percent of Indian students are in graduate programs.

The non-working days outnumber the working ones at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is currently on a weeklong Diwali vacation, which began Nov 5. The apex court will reopen Oct 12. The ongoing apex court vacation has come barely a fortnight after the Dussehra break from Oct 15 to Oct 20. Beginning Dec 17, the Supreme Court will have the usual fortnight-long winter break till Jan 1. The British legacy of a nearly two-month-long summer vacation - the mother of all vacations of the apex court - continuing year after year since Independence can leave even children bored to death. The apex court had its summer vacation from May 21 to July 8 this year. Its holiday calendar compares well with the vacations of Delhi schools. For instance, Delhi's Somerville School like most schools in the national capital had a summer vacation from May 15 to July 1, only a day's holiday on Dussehra and a two-day break for Diwali.

The IANS report is here (Thanks to Sugan for the link). Along the way, I also learned that "there is no female judge at present in the apex court."

A Soviet spy at Los Alamos

“He had access to everything,” said Dr. Kramish, who worked with Dr. Koval at Oak Ridge and now lives in Reston, Va. “He had his own Jeep. Very few of us had our own Jeeps. He was clever. He was a trained G.R.U. spy.” That status, he added, made Dr. Koval unique in the history of atomic espionage, a judgment historians echo.

Washington has known about Dr. Koval’s spying since he fled the United States shortly after the war but kept it secret.

“It would have been highly embarrassing for the U.S. government to have had this divulged,” said Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb,” a biography of the project’s military leader.

Read more about George Koval here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Emigration of doctors trained at AIIMS

Here's an interesting study (pdf) by Manas Kaushik, Abhishek Jaiswal, Naseem Shah and Ajay Mahal, on emigration of AIIMS-trained physicians over the period 1989-2000:

Findings: Nearly 54% of AIIMS graduates during 1989–2000 now reside outside India. Students admitted under the general category are twice as likely to reside abroad (95% confidence interval: 1.53–2.99) as students admitted under the affirmative-action category. Recipients of multiple academic awards were 35% more likely to emigrate than non-recipients of awards (95% confidence interval: 1.04–1.76). Multivariate analyses do not change these basic conclusions.

Conclusion: Graduates from higher quality institutions account for a disproportionately large share of emigrating physicians. Even within high-end institutions, such as AIIMS, better physicians are more likely to emigrate. Interventions should focus on the highly trained individuals in the top institutions that contribute disproportionately to the loss of human resources for health. Our findings suggest that affirmative-action programmes may have an unintended benefit in that they may help retain a subset of such personnel.

Among the authors, Jaiswal and Shaw are at AIIMS, while the other two are at Harvard.

* * *

Thanks to Dr. Bruno Mascarenhas for the e-mail pointer.

For your brain's sake, exercise!

In their column, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang cite summarize the research on the link between physical exercise and brain health:

One form of training, however, has been shown to maintain and improve brain health — physical exercise. In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions. Executive function includes basic functions like processing speed, response speed and working memory, the type used to remember a house number while walking from the car to a party.

Executive function starts to decline when people reach their 70s. But elderly people who have been athletic all their lives have much better executive function than sedentary people of the same age. This relationship might occur because people who are healthier tend to be more active, but that’s not the whole story. When inactive people get more exercise, even starting in their 70s, their executive function improves, as shown in a recent meta-analysis of 18 studies. ...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

An academic study of work at the workplace

"Our findings are astounding: By simply sitting down and doing work, employees can dramatically increase their output of goods and services," said Deputy Undersecretary of Labor Charlotte Ponticelli, who authored the report. "In fact, 'working' may revolutionize the way people work."

Perhaps even more shocking, the study reveals that not working significantly decreases worker productivity, sometimes even resulting in no work getting done at all. Similar findings were reported in the areas of avoiding work, putting off work, complaining about work instead of actually working, pretending to work, and fucking around.

"Fucking around is in fact detrimental to the work process," the study reads in part.

Source: The Onion, of course!

Larry Lessig on user generated content

Lessig is an amazing speaker. Watch this video of his TED talk (about 20 minutes). Be prepared for some hilarious footage along the way.

Lots of important stuff on IQ ...

... from none other than James R. Flynn -- the man who "did much to document" the Flynn effect and "promote awareness of its implications." There's really a lot of stuff in there, but here's something for you to taste:

... [T]he saddest result of the obsession with g [is this]: it makes the limitations of the concept no longer a matter of evidence. Any evidence that challenges the supremacy of g is not good evidence because it challenges the supremacy of g and that is that.

Note that we would not reason in this way in other areas. There is a musical g in the sense that whoever is better than me on the piano will probably outdo me on the organ. But skills could improve on one and not the other, and that would be of great significance to the world of music. There is a moral g in the sense that good people tend to be both more tolerant and more generous than the average. But over time, white Americans may have tended to become more tolerant of other races and no more generous in giving to charities. No black American would say that unless all of the components of moral g moved together, the trends were not significant.

Breast milk and IQ

Some interesting link -- mediated by specific gene variation:

Breast-fed children with one common variation of the gene scored an average of seven points higher on I.Q. tests than children nourished on formula or cow’s milk; but children with another, less common variation did not benefit from breast-feeding at all, the researchers reported yesterday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How effective is computerized instruction?

Here's the abstract:

Although schools across the country are investing heavily in computers in the classroom, there is surprisingly little evidence that they actually improve student achievement. In this paper we present results from a randomized study of a well-defined use of computers in schools: a popular instructional computer program, known as Fast ForWord, which is designed to improve language and reading skills. We assess the impact of the program using four different measures of language and reading ability. Our estimates suggest that while use of the computer program may improve some aspects of students' language skills, it does not appear that these gains translate into a broader measure of language acquisition or into actual reading skills.

The paper is by Princeton economist Alan Krueger with Cecilia E. Rouse. Previous links to Krueger's work (on the myths about terrorists) are here and here.

Make sure your kids get enough sleep

After this and this, some more evidence on the importance of getting adequate sleep; this time, it's the link between sleep and obesity in kids. And it's not what you think!

Every extra hour a third grader spends in bed--regardless of their size--slims the chance of a child being obese as a sixth grader.

To keep trim, third graders should get 9 hours and 45 minutes of sleep a night, according to researchers of a recent study.

Researchers are unable to explain exactly why sleep keeps little waistlines from expanding. But hunger hormones may be to blame.

BTW, have you checked out 60 Second Science the latest blog from the Scientific American?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cory Doctorow interview at

And the interviewer is Joel Turnipseed, guest editor at It has quite a few interesting threads; here's one about the ethics of giving books away:

... [T]he ethical reason is that the alternative is that we chide, criminalize, sue, damn our readers for doing what readers have always done, which is sharing books they love—only now they're doing it electronically. You know, there's no solution that arises from telling people to stop using computers in the way that computers were intended to be used. They're copying machines. So telling the audience for art, telling 70 million American file-sharers that they're all crooks, and none of them have the right to due process, none of them have the right to privacy, we need to wire-tap all of them, we need to shut down their network connections without notice in order to preserve the anti-copying business model: that's a deeply unethical position. It puts us in a world in which we are criminalizing average people for participating in their culture.

The Profiler

...Profiling stories aren’t Whodunits; they’re Hedunits.

In the Hedunit, the profiler does not catch the criminal. That’s for local law enforcement. He takes the meeting. Often, he doesn’t write down his predictions. It’s up to the visiting police officers to take notes. He does not feel the need to involve himself in the subsequent investigation, or even, it turns out, to justify his predictions. Once, Douglas tells us, he drove down to the local police station and offered his services in the case of an elderly woman who had been savagely beaten and sexually assaulted. The detectives working the crime were regular cops, and Douglas was a bureau guy, so you can imagine him perched on the edge of a desk, the others pulling up chairs around him.

That's from the latest demolition job from Malcolm Gladwell. He sets up the article with what sounds like an amazing success story in profiling, where the hero provides police officers vital clues in amazing detail ("When you catch him ... he'll be wearing a double-breasted suit. ... And it will be buttoned.") that allow the latter to nail some nasty psychopaths. He slowly works his way up to a thorough debunking of the entire profiling enterprise (at least, the FBI's version of it). Here's some seriously delicious stuff:

... when [Laurence Alison, one of the leaders of the Liverpool group and the author of “The Forensic Psychologist’s Casebook,”] broke down the rooftop-killer analysis, sentence by sentence, he found that it was so full of unverifiable and contradictory and ambiguous language that it could support virtually any interpretation.

Astrologers and psychics have known these tricks for years. The magician Ian Rowland, in his classic “The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading,” itemizes them one by one, in what could easily serve as a manual for the beginner profiler. First is the Rainbow Ruse—the “statement which credits the client with both a personality trait and its opposite.” (“I would say that on the whole you can be rather a quiet, self effacing type, but when the circumstances are right, you can be quite the life and soul of the party if the mood strikes you.”) The Jacques Statement, named for the character in “As You Like It” who gives the Seven Ages of Man speech, tailors the prediction to the age of the subject. To someone in his late thirties or early forties, for example, the psychic says, “If you are honest about it, you often get to wondering what happened to all those dreams you had when you were younger.” There is the Barnum Statement, the assertion so general that anyone would agree, and the Fuzzy Fact, the seemingly factual statement couched in a way that “leaves plenty of scope to be developed into something more specific.” (“I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part?”) And that’s only the start: there is the Greener Grass technique, the Diverted Question, the Russian Doll, Sugar Lumps, not to mention Forking and the Good Chance Guess—all of which, when put together in skillful combination, can convince even the most skeptical observer that he or she is in the presence of real insight.

Fabulous stuff. Go read all of it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"The object of torture is torture"

After weighing the evidence, Cosma Shalizi concludes:

The point of this torture is not to extract information; there are better ways to do that, which we have long used. The point of this torture is not to extract confessions; there are no show trials of terrorists or auto-de-fes in the offing. The point of this torture is to exercise unlimited, unaccountable power over other human beings; to negate the very point of our country, to our profound and lasting national shame.

Calling this administration "sadistic" insults thousands of sane, decent, kinky sexual perverts.

The first quoted paragraph is backed up by quite a few links (which I didn't copy -- purposely) over at Cosma's blog. Head over there to read the whole thing.

Where does India stand in industrial R&D spending?

Here's one way to look at it (thanks to Pradeepkumar for the pointer):

The top 10 Indian firms, put together, invested 477 million euro last year for R&D, less than one-tenth of the world's biggest R&D investor Pfizer.

The total R&D spending by top 10 Indian companies is also less than what the lowest ranked company among the world's top-50 spends.

Just after this year's Central Budget was presented, I did an analysis of public spending on R&D in India. My estimate for government support for academic R&D in all our universities was less than half a billion dollars. This figure is exceeded by the R&D budget of each of the top five (and probably many more!) US universities.

Chetan Kunte on social networks

He admits he's in denial about social networks. Still, he scores some key points when he says:

[...]I believe that best functioning communities are those on mailing lists. No shitty scrapbooks, no request for contacts or recommendations, no virtual request for pass-the-baton stuff. And they get work done too. I’d like to know how many active communities—who really get work done—are on Facebook, or Orkut, or on any other social network?

As far as I know, everyone of those GTD communities are on their own mail lists. They dish out solutions before you can compose your next email. Have you seen it happening in these so called web 2.0 social networks? [...]

BS interviews Sukhadeo Thorat

Um, BS would be the Business Standard and, of course, Thorat is Chairman, Universities Grants Commission. Topic: The state of higher education in India.

What about reforms in the university education system, like common entrance tests, semester systems, constant revision of the syllabus and student transferability? What about the autonomy and governance issues? Universities seem to be going slow on the reforms front.

Yes, these are some of the issues raised by the Kothari Commission as well, and we have to look at them seriously. But it is wrong to say that they are not implemented at all. Central universities are going forward with reforms and we have to see that the state universities follow the same model. This can be done in stages.

To have a uniform approach in administrative and other matters, the UGC has a proposal to limit the affiliations under one university to 50 colleges. At present, some universities, like Mumbai and Osmania, have a huge number of affiliations. Most of the state universities are also in agreement with the proposal. This can be done by splitting the colleges within the existing universities and by creating new ones. There is also a proposal to have ‘constituent colleges’ which would deliver courses from the undergraduate to Phd levels.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Body scanning, anyone?

Apparently, Heathrow airport is 'testing' this technique. Here's Peter Foster, Telegraph's India correspondent, on his experience -- in a post titled "Butt-naked at Heathrow":

I was directed to remove my shoes and then enter a booth where, at the instruction of the official, I placed my feet on the patches indicated on the floor.

One after the other I struck three rather awkward poses, hands reaching for the sky as if trying save a Beckham free-kick curling its way first into the top right corner, and then the top left corner.

The whole procedure took a minute at most and it was with some curiosity that I skipped round to the back of the booth to where a technician was reviewing my scan behind a small curtain.

Well. There's no polite way of putting this. There I was, on screen, absolutely butt-naked. [...]

Amit Varma reviews Alan Krueger's "What makes a terrorist?"

And it's a pretty positive one:

... Looking into the economic background of terrorists, Krueger cites a study that compares “suicide bombers and other militants” from the West Bank and Gaza strip with the entire male population aged 16 to 50, and find that “suicide bombers were less than half as likely to come from families that were below the poverty line.” Krueger gets similar results from studies on Hezbollah and Gush Emunim, an Israeli group.

Krueger cites public opinion surveys across Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey that show that terrorism finds more support among the better educated than among the uneducated. The biographical details of known terrorists bring him to an identical conclusion.

This is a good time to link -- again -- to Alan Krueger's article titled "Five myths about terrorism." The previous time I linked to it, some of the comments were, how do I put it, very interesting...

Discrimination against women ... coffee shops:

... [M]en get their coffee 20 seconds earlier than women. (There is also evidence that black people wait longer than white people, the young wait longer than the old, and the ugly wait longer than the beautiful. But these effects are statistically not as persuasive.)

Perhaps, says the sceptic, this is because women order froufrou drinks? Up to a point. The researchers found that men are more likely to order simpler drinks. Yet comparing fancy-drink-ordering men with fancy-drink-ordering women, the longer wait for women remained.

It is also hard to attribute the following finding to a female preference for wet-skinny-soya-machiatto with low carb marshmallows: the delays facing women were longer when the coffee shop staff was all-male, and almost vanished when the serving staff were all-female.

It is not clear whether women were held up by male staff because the men viewed them with contempt, or because male staff flirted furiously. The “contempt” explanation seems more likely, as the extra time that women wait seems to increase when the coffee shop is busy. Who would take extra time out to flirt just when the lines are longer?

Tim Harford's column is here. He has more background information at his blog.

Update: Harford has a follow-up post with a response from the study's lead author [Thanks to Sharath Rao for the link].

Friday, November 02, 2007

Voices, IISc's student magazine, is now online

Update 2 (9 February 2009): Yes, the site is now available to the whole wide world outside IISc. A big thank you to the Voices team; see Rupesh's post.

Update: Oops! Looks like the link works only within our Institute! I have written to the Voices team. I'll post another update when they nail the problem.

* * *

The magazine is called "Voices", and its online version -- e-Voices? -- is here. Congratulations to the entire Voices team for taking this online leap!

Right now, the Voices website has just the October issue, which features articles by three student bloggers from IISc: Natasha Mhatre, Sujit Chakrabarti (whose cartoons are here) and Rupesh (who calls himself bhOndOO). In fact, their articles started their lives as blog posts!

Among the other articles, the one by Sudhira is particularly noteworthy for its plea for setting up a Balawadi (pre-school child care) center to help the families of large numbers of construction workers who live in temporary housing units in our campus [In case you didn't know, IISc is going through a veritable construction boom].

Thanks to the Voices team's efforts, our alumni can now be in touch with the current generation of students and their creative output. I hope the website will also allow them to contribute to Voices. Such alumni participation will have another beneficial side effect: the publication frequency will go up!

All in all, I am very happy to see Voices go online. This is fantastic!

T.T. Ram Mohan has an idea for how to pay for the Pay Commission recommendations

In his latest column in the Economic Times on the rise and rise of stock prices, he says:

First, let us acknowledge that there is something to thank the Left for. When the Left announced its opposition to disinvestment after the UPA government came to power, the Sensex tanked. Critics of the Left yelled highway murder. This is the end of the rise in the Sensex, they said. We know now it was only the beginning.

The Sensex has risen nearly 300% since June 1, 2004. PSU stocks have outperformed the Sensex, rising by 366% in the same period. The market did not suffer because of the Left’s opposition to disinvestment and the government itself has gained hugely. Secondly, if the government is still around when the Pay Commission recommendations arrive, it can work out a deal with the unions and the Left: let us go with a generous award by all means but please allow disinvestment to proceed at least in PSUs where the government’s shareholding is well above 51%.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thirty illnesses, sorted according to ...

... whether or not you can eat the victim!

Women at work: "Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t"

In 2006, Catalyst looked at stereotypes across cultures (surveying 935 alumni of the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland) and found that while the view of an ideal leader varied from place to place — in some regions the ideal leader was a team builder, in others the most valued skill was problem-solving. But whatever was most valued, women were seen as lacking it.

Respondents in the United States and England, for instance, listed “inspiring others” as a most important leadership quality, and then rated women as less adept at this than men. In Nordic countries, women were seen as perfectly inspirational, but it was “delegating” that was of higher value there, and women were not seen as good delegators.

From this NYTimes report by Lisa Belkin.

* * *

In other news, here's some statistics on women in American academia (the linked article has lots more on the status of underrepresented minorities):

... despite the fact that they make up more than 50 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients in fields like chemistry and political science, in those fields they represent, respectively, 13.7 and 26.1 percent of all professors at top 100 departments.

V. Raghunathan warns us about Shelfari's shenanigans

Shelfari appears to be a social networking site for book lovers; and no, I'm not linking to them. It appears to me that after you become a member (I certainly am not!), it lures you into sharing your e-mail account details, uses them to raid your addressbook, and spams people in your addressbook with an invite. Indiscriminately. And, in some cases, repeatedly.

This is evil. Pure evil.

Such evil tactics were used last year by another social networking site Gazzag. This post, which describes some of the seriously bad consequences of those tactics, seems to have had the right effect: the spam that I used to receive from Gazzag stopped immediately.

Now, coming back to Shelfari, Prof. V. Raghunathan (formerly with IIM-A, a regular columnist at several newspapers, and author of Games Indians Play: Why We Are the Way We Are) was among those who complained to the Shelfari folks about their shitty practice. He is so upset with their unwillingness to address his concerns (and worse, their inability to honor their own explicitly stated commitments) that he has now written to everyone on his addressbook, stating clearly that all those invites that were purportedly from him were not authorized by him.

Prof. Raghunathan also shared with his correspondents his latest e-mail to Shelfari. With his permission, I am excerpting it here.

I had complained to you that unsolicited emails were sent from my addressbook to hundreds of my contacts on my addressbook by Shelfari some time ago, causing me immense embarassment, simply because I happened to accept somebdoy's invitation to Shelfari (in retrospect a big mistake). You had apologized "for the frustration and confusion [caused to me] and had assured me that you "only send emails on behalf of users who have explicitly authorized you to do so" - a statement patently untrue - testified by yet another unsolicited invitation that has gone on my behalf today (Oct 30, 07), unknown to me, to yet another innocent victim of Shelfari. And this, when as recently as October 27, 07, you had responded to my complaint saying, "If you had contacted us sooner, I would have prevented all the follow-ups from being sent."

I am therefore left with no option but to send out this communciation to all those who happen to be on my my addressbook that none of the invites from Shelfari have ever consciously originated from me. I have never invited anybody consciously to "share my books" or solicited any "friendship" or sent any reminders to anybody. Shelfari is using most unfair means to reach out to as many eyeballs, by means fair or foul, perhaps more of the latter than the former, since it has an "invitation page" designed to suit its own purpose, never mind its nuisance value to the innocent victims.

That your methods are questionable is clear from the fact that you have also stated in your response to me, stating:

For your friends to stop any future invitations from friends on Shelfari, they can enter their names here [URL deleted].

Why should my friends have to do any additional work just because you guys are inflicting yourself upon them uninvited? The default setting should be that you respect others' privacy and not send out unsolicited "invitations", and not the other way round.