Sunday, June 30, 2013


  1. Bob Mankoff, The New Yorker's cartoon editor, picks ten of his favorites. Delightful stuff -- the set even includes one about Einstein's pillow talk.

    Mankoff's TED talk is pretty great too:

  2. What it's like to get a national security letter -- an interview with Brewster Kahle, the founder of the nonprofit Internet Archive ... and of the Wayback Machine, [... and] one of very few people in the United States who can talk about receiving a national-security letter."

  3. Hmmm, extending the progression towards grimness, here are a couple of links: How not to die by Jonathan Rauch at The Atlantic, and How do physicians and non-physicians want to die? by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images. We also linked to an earlier article by Ken Murray making similar arguments.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Special Privileges for Nalanda

The Economic Times reports:

The University, its assets, its income and other property shall be exempted from all direct taxes, customs duties and prohibitions and restrictions on imports and exports for articles imported/exported for its official use.

The agreement also exempts the Vice-Chancellor and academic staff of the University from taxation in respect of their salaries, honoraria, allowances and other emoluments.

* * *

Here's an earlier story about the architectural plans for this iconic "international" university.

Women in Science in Japan

NYTimes ran a story on the massive underrepresentation of women in the sciences -- Japan's "Science Women" Seek an Identity by Miki Tanikawa. The story covers this phenomenon from many different angles, but this one stood out for me: the fate of a proposal to guarantee at least 5 seats (out of 54) for women in the Math department at Kyushu University:

Attempts at raising the number of women come against legal barriers, underpinned by social mores and cultural forces. In 2010, faculty members of the Kyushu University mathematics department concluded that a more proactive admissions policy might be needed to recruit more women. The number of female students was only in the single digits, out of a student body of more than 50.

So the faculty decided to set up a quota. The first group of 45 students selected would be done regardless of gender. But, in the second group, the department would admit at least five women out of nine slots. Ultimately, that meant a quota that guaranteed a minimum of only 5 women in 54 total places.

But months after the announcement was made, calls and e-mails poured in criticizing what was seen as “reverse discrimination” and the breaking of the “equality before the law” principle, said Masanobu Kaneko, dean of the department.

“They claimed it would be unconstitutional, violating Article 14 that guaranteed equality of gender before the law,” he said. “We realized that this could lead to a lawsuit,” possibly by male applicants who failed to get in.

“If we lost the case, it could result in irrecoverable damage” to the school’s reputation and cause problems for those who were admitted, Dr. Kaneko said.

On the advice of lawyers and constitutional scholars, the faculty decided that they could lose such a lawsuit. Baffled, they gave up the idea.

Friday, June 28, 2013


  1. Jennifer Carpenter at Science Insider summarizes yet another study whose results would appear to blame women for their low status in science: Study Finds Women Biologists More Likely to Avoid Spotlight at Conferences. Here's the study itself.

  2. Rod Smolla has a great essay in Inside Higher Ed on The Legal Future of Affirmative Action in the US.

  3. UGC announces a set of norms for what our universities can and cannot do -- mostly the latter. Among the cannots: offer distance education program for MPhil and PhD degrees, courses through franchisee institutions, courses outside the state in which they are established.

  4. Trouble in CAT-land: results of some students have been tampered with -- not at the IIMs, but on the website that dishes out CAT scores to students and institutions. Private institutions that admit students using CAT scores are crying foul.

  5. Finally, xkcd has put together a very informative document on how modernity has destroyed humanity affected, among other things, people' ability to connect with each other.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Retraction Jokes

How many jokes are hidden in this story of a retracted paper from surgical researchers at Kota, Rajasthan? The mind boggles!

Indian HigherEd Links

  1. UGC has announced the rules governing the operation of Indian campuses of foreign universities. Here's a short excerpt about which institutions are allowed to set up shop in India:

    ... Only those education providers placed in the top 400 institutions as per the world university rankings by Times Higher Education or World University Rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) or Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai Jiao Tong University would be allowed. Education providers who have been in the field of education for more than 20 years in the parent country and are accredited there would be allowed to set up campus in India.

    Applications would have to be endorsed by the embassy or high commission of the institution's home country in India.

  2. IIM-Ahmedabad is getting a new director: Prof. Ashish Nanda, an IIM-A alum who is now a professor at the Harvard Law School (to which he moved after over a decade at the Harvard Business School). His personal website is here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Yorker on the Surveillance State

"If you didn't sneeze, and I didn't sneeze, then the FBI must have sneezed."

That's from one of the cartoons in this great collection from the New Yorker archives on the surveillance state. Wonderful stuff!

IIT News

  1. Several years after it began a masters level course in medical technology, IIT-Kharagpur has finalized plans to start an MBBS program.

  2. IIT-Bombay joins the edX platform (led by Harvard and MIT) for offering MOOCs.

  3. Someone at The Hindustan Times reads Dheeraj Sanghi's blog. See this report: IIT's start blogs, campus tours to woo top-ranked students.

  4. First year IIT-ians find the going tough: nearly 10 percent of the first year students in IIT-M fail the math and physics courses.

  5. IIT-Bombay's method to motivate its students to show up for classes in the first week of the semester: de-registration.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Doctoral Studies in Computer Science in India

Prof. Pankaj Jalote, Director of IIIT-Delhi, has a study entitled ACM Survey of PhD Production in India in Computer Science. He also has a post highlighting his key findings and their implications.

Bottomline: About 125 PhDs graduated last year from Indian universities/institutions, and this number is likely to be about 250 in the year 2017-18. They face an excellent market for employment. A big surprise (at least for me): a large number of these PhDs -- 50 out of 125 -- are teaching in India.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


  1. SMBC explains the meaning of quantum proctologist.

  2. A news clip on how rich people are more likely to be the kind of people a quantum proctologist might be interested in studying:

    Link via Sociological Images.

  3. Harvard's Greg Mankiw's article "defending the one percent" gets strong intellectual   pushback, ... and a lot of ridicule.

  4. Since we started with SMBC, here's one on what physicists and economists think of each other.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


  1. Roland Fryar's experiments in tech-enabled motivation:

    A groundbreaking experiment that bombarded US high school students with inspiring text messages was found to be a success on all counts except one: it made no difference to how the students performed in school.

  2. Vikram Garg: Behind Middle India’s Celebration of the Meritorious Marginalized.

  3. Fabio Rojas: How do graduate students actually choose their advisers?.

  4. Science Insider: U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Human Gene Patents

  5. Abstruse Goose: Alone in my room.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Quote of the Day

If age equals experience equals wisdom, Advani was showing little of it.
-- Churumuri commenting on yesterday's bombshell resignation drama from the Iron Man.

* * *

Bonus link: The Upside of Quitting from Freakonomics Radio.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Liquid Oxygen

An "Ajit joke" popular among college-goers of a certain era had the great villain saying this to one of his sidekicks:

Robert, dump this man in liquid oxygen. Liquid won't let him live, and oxygen won't let him die.

Here's a video of a version of this idea -- dumping a piece of burning charcoal in liquid oxygen:

"They'll flip the switch. ... It'll be turnkey tyranny"

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower, speaks to The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald about PRISM. Watch the video here; a report, along with a brief profile of the man, is here.

* * *

Update: Two more links: What We Don't Know About Spying on Citizens: Scarier Than What We Know by Bruce Schneier, and On whistleblowers and government threats of investigation by Glenn Greenwald.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

CMJ University "issued" 430+ PhDs in one year

And this private university was established just four years ago!

The story has been unraveling over the last month or so. A quick chronology:

  1. May 15: Meghalaya may ask CBI to probe CMJ University scam.

  2. May 25: CMJ University in Meghalaya warned of dissolution.

  3. May 28: CMJ varsity director surrenders -- Of ‘wanted’ trio, only university chancellor remains at large

  4. June 9: Government tells universities to cancel promotions based on CMJ degrees.

* * *

Update: See this report in The Telegraph about similar instances from Andhra Pradesh [I thank L for the comment-alert].

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Entrance Exams Elsewhere


Access to higher education: One exam, one door

Last week, 7 million Brazilians participated in a two-days marathon exam to assess their secondary education achievements in language, natural sciences, humanities, mathematics and writing. This test, known as ENEM (Exame Nacional do Ensino M├ędio, the National Exam of Secondary Education in English) serves in part as an entrance examination to all federal higher education institutions in the different parts of the country. In the past, each university had its own selection procedure.


  1. Robin Wilson at CHE (from June 2012): Why Are Associate Professors So Unhappy?

  2. Joyce Lau at India Ink: Can Job Training Trump a Degree?

  3. Carola Binder: Macroeconomic Consequences of Allocation of Talent.

  4. Noah Smith: What is "Derp"? The Answer is Technical. [Thanks to Gautam Menon for the pointer]

  5. An interview with Prof. Daniel Kahneman at The Daily Beast.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Annals of Popular Science: NLP Edition

Over at Lingua Franca, Geoffrey Pullum has a series of posts on "three developments elsewhere that seem to be discouraging ... development [of Natural Language Processing (NLP)]." Even if you, like me, are not particularly invested in this topic, there's a lot of interesting stuff about algorithms, such as Google Search and Google Translate, at the core of "developments elsewhere" that do a good-enough approximation of NLP's fully developed version (which is still far, far away).

All in all, a great example of popular science writing.

Here are the posts, in chronological order:

  1. Why Are We Still Waiting for Natural Language Processing?

  2. Keyword Search, Plus a Little Magic

  3. Speech Recognition vs. Language Processing

  4. Machine Translation Without the Translation