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Joe Philip Ninan
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Joe Philip Ninan

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Charles Darwin: Evolution and the story of our species
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Joe Philip Ninan

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Twenty-four hours after an attack by Da'esh (the organization formerly known as ISIS [1]) on Paris left 129 dead and 352 wounded, the Internet and the airwaves alike have been filled with profound waves of self-serving nonsense and stupidity from left and right alike. Everyone seems to have found a way in which this situation justifies their position – protect the refugees! Exile the refugees! Bomb someone! Stop all bombing of anyone! – and magically, it seems that one of the most complex political situations of our time can be reduced to simple slogans.

Well, I've run out of patience with this, so let me seriously discuss what just happened here, and what it tells us. I'm going to talk about three things which have combined to lead to yesterday's massacre: the refugee crisis, Europe's Muslim population, and Da'esh. I'll then talk about a few things which I think have little or nothing to do with what we're seeing – most importantly, religion and oil – and a few things which do – such as food and water. And finally, we'll talk about what it's going to take to fix this, both in the short term and the long term.

Being entirely out of patience right now, forgive me for being particularly blunt. I suspect that, by the end of this, you will be thoroughly offended by my opinions, whether you are American, European, or Middle Eastern, left or right: nobody has behaved well in the lead-up to this.

The first thing to realize about the refugees streaming into Europe from Syria and its environs is that not only are they not, by and large, terrorists – they're people fleeing these exact terrorists. France was just hit by Da'esh, with over five hundred casualties; in Syria, people are surrounded by Da'esh on one side, and a bloodthirsty army on the other side, and have been seeing death on the scale of yesterday's attack every single day for the past four and a half years. [2] If you were living there, you would very likely be fleeing, too.

But the second thing to realize about the refugees is that there are, in fact, Da'esh members among them. It's clear that at least one of the attackers came in from Syria as part of October's refugee flood, and there's no reason at all not to believe that quite a few more are among them, working both at short- and long-term goals. (More on which in a moment)

Everyone seems to have simplistic solutions, here: kick out all the Muslims (as America's Ann Coulter and Donald Trump suggest), settle the refugees more permanently, build giant prison camps. These solutions tend to miss a few very basic points:

(1) When you have hundreds of thousands of people who are quite literally willing to risk not only their deaths, but the deaths of their families, in order to escape, your odds of being able to keep them out aren't actually great, unless your plan is to mobilize a giant army and start attacking inward until they're fleeing in the opposite direction.

(2) You do not have enough prison camp capacity to handle this many people, nor could you build it. Nor do you have enough housing and residential infrastructure capacity to easily settle this many people, because the flux you're seeing out of Syria is very far from the end of it. 

This is why large regional disasters quickly tend to spread into adjacent regions. This is why it's important not to let regional disasters get out of hand, no matter how politically appealing isolationism may appear.

The second thing to be aware of is that this didn't happen in a vacuum: Europe has a very large Muslim population, and it seems that most of the attackers were French or Belgian citizens. This started out with Europe's colonial ambitions, back in the day: France, for example, ruled over Algeria with a mind-bogglingly bloodthirsty approach [3] for decades, but now has a large population of people with a right to French residence who have been moving in to the country in search of a better economic situation. (Hardly surprising, when you leave behind a colony wracked by a horrifying civil war for decades) And France is far from alone in this.

Europe's Muslim population is both profoundly European and profoundly not European. They are European in that they have been living there, often for more than a generation; they work there, they pay taxes, they have become as assimilated as they can. They are not European in that Europe has been profoundly unwilling to allow them to assimilate. This is far from a historical anomaly: Europe has historically defined itself in terms of villages or cities and their local populations, which one can't really join very easily. Groups marked as outsiders – be they Jews, Romany, or Muslims – have been considered only marginally European. At times, there has been a high degree of apparent assimilation: for example, Jews were thoroughly integrated into European culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, intermarrying, forming friendships and professional associations across the board. As you may notice, "thorough integration" can be an awfully chancy business. 

Muslims in today's Europe, on the other hand, don't have anything close to this superficial level of integration; France has been routinely passing laws banning Muslims from dressing the way they did in their home countries in the past few years, which should tell you a great deal about local opinions of that population.

So you have a large population who finds it systematically hard to find work, impossible to be accepted, the regular target of police, and told every day that they should probably be kicked out of the country. I'm sure you will find it shocking that, if you do this to a few tens of millions of people for a few decades at a stretch, you will end up with a disillusioned and disenfranchised youth, some of which will combine this with the general hot-headedness and stupidity of being a young adult to become easy fodder for people who have shown up to recruit.

Lots of people seem to have half-assed solutions here, and they tend to be even more foolish than the solutions to the refugee crisis. "Send them back," the European right frequently cries: back to where? Most of the Muslim population is no longer fresh immigrants; they are second and third generation Europeans. They don't have homes anywhere else. The European left, on the other hand, preaches a mealymouthed combination of urging assimilation and unmistakeable racism. 

For some context, go back to the Charlie Hebdo attacks several months ago. There was a large outcry, saying that what the magazine (a notable left-wing satirical organ) had been doing was entirely in the bounds of proper satire, that the satire of religion was a hallowed European tradition. What this explanation glosses over is that nobody on the receiving end of the satire saw it as satire of religion, for the simple reason that religious affiliation, in Europe as in the Middle East, has little to do with what you believe and much to do with who you are. Charlie Hebdo's targets weren't simply religious extremists preaching from Saudi mosques; they were a portrayal of the French Muslim population as violent extremists, the dangerous other. And that's precisely the European left-wing line: Muslims are fine, so long as they become completely European, to the extent that we can forget that they were ever from someone else. Which, realistically, might mean they have to intermarry for a few generations and acquire blue eyes and blond hair, but that's OK, we welcome them!

The honest fact is this: neither the European left nor the right have ever made the large Muslim community into a full part of society. One side has covered it in nice words, while the other side has blared its xenophobia from the rooftops, but nobody on the receiving end of either of these has been fooled.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. What did you expect was going to happen?

And then we come over to our friends in the Middle East, the psychotically bloodthirsty bastards of Da'esh itself. It's a bit off to even refer to them as Islamist extremists in the mold of al-Qaeda; they've gone so far off the rails of Islam that the only clear ideology that often seems left is power and murder. Exhortations from theologians of any stripe aren't really going to have an effect on them.

But they seem to have realized that they are on an upswing of power, nobody having the resources or will to stop them, and have come up with the idea of spreading this worldwide, with attacks spreading to places like Russia and France – and, as soon as they can, everywhere else. Because as far as anyone can tell, they want to take over the world.

(Yes, this is a kind of screwy plan, and they barely even control chunks of land in the ass end of Syria and Iraq. But they've had enough luck with killing people that they seem to have convinced themselves that if they engage in even more killing people, it'll continue to work just as well. [4])

They seem to have one fairly simple strategic objective with these new attacks: drive a hard wedge between Muslim and infidel populations around the world, so that the Muslims will have no choice but to join them and become their army, overthrowing the local governments and establishing a world-wide Caliphate.

Unfortunately, political stupidity seems likely to help them. If the response to these attacks is to further isolate Muslim populations – both settled and refugee – then they will certainly have a far easier time recruiting among them. It's not actually going to lead to them taking over the world, but it will lead to bloodshed.

This recruitment tends to take a few forms. One is to recruit fighters to come and help in the bloodshed in existing battlefields; the second is to recruit suicide bombers and the like in other countries. These are somewhat disjoint processes, since the process of recruiting someone to commit suicide is rather different and targets different sorts of people, but there is also overlap: one strategy which al-Qaeda long favored was to recruit people to come to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Chechnya to fight, and later export trained fighters elsewhere.

One important thing about these tactics is that they seem to be realizing that surprisingly little training and planning is required. Yesterday's attack required some coordination among teams, but nothing spectacular; it did require practice in gunplay. But even this was fairly complex compared to the bare minimum required; consider the amount of chaos caused by the D.C. Sniper back in 2002.

Da'esh poses a particular danger because they seem to have latched onto the idea of exporting their violence to the rest of the world, but they're hardly the first or the last group to do this. If they were to be wiped out, I wouldn't bet any money that someone else wouldn't get the same idea soon after, much like al-Qaeda did before them. It's not even a particularly regional idea; the notion that if we kill enough people we can restructure the world to be perfectly {Aryan, Muslim, Democratic, Christian, Communist, etc.}, or to be the economic vassal states of the {X} empire, is frankly a cliché by now on pretty much every square kilometer of the planet.

So let's review where we are, for a moment. There's a large European Muslim population which is disillusioned, disenfranchised, underemployed, and generally treated as outsiders and fair political punching bags by the society as a whole. There's a giant stream of refugees pouring in to Europe, combining huge numbers of people running for their lives from bloodthirsty maniacs with small numbers of bloodthirsty maniacs looking to recruit. There's a factory of particularly bloodthirsty maniacs with a vision of taking over the world through (a) killing people and (b) convincing the rest of the world to treat Muslims even more like outsiders, who are actively trying to both create refugee streams and send out recruiters, to this end.

At this point, I expect to hear a chorus of voices blaming two things for this: religion (specifically, Islam), and oil (specifically, the West's insatiable need for it). To which my main response to both is "hogwash."

The reason I reject Islam as an explanation for this is that there's nothing particularly Muslim about any of it. The European Muslims which are being treated as second-class citizens aren't being treated that way because they pray on rugs facing Mecca, rather than in pews facing an altar; they're being treated this way because they're "dirty foreigners." (I'll spare you the actual terms used to describe them) Da'esh's plan to take over the world isn't rooted in a theological destiny of Muslims; it's rooted in an explicitly political vision of conquest. And quite frankly, the people being shot at the most are Muslims, too; remember who the refugees were running from?

More profoundly, people in the Middle East aren't systematically any more religious than people are in America. You have the same spectrum from the wholly secular to the crazed fundamentalist, with the former predominating in cities and the latter in the countryside. There's a tendency to assume (for example) that any woman wearing a headscarf must be extremely devout, or subject to domination and terror by some devout man; you have to back away and look at it in its local context, where sometimes it's a sign of devotion or a political statement, but it's also just what people wear; for many people, walking around with one's hair exposed is not done in much the same way people don't walk around in most of the US or Europe with their asses hanging out.

Oil is generally used as a proxy for "if only the Americans|Europeans never intervened in the Middle East, it would be peaceful there!" This bespeaks a rather curious innocence as to the history of the Middle East, combined with a reversed vision of (generally American) exceptionalism, that somehow our surpassing evil can corrupt otherwise noble savages. It's certainly true that without oil, most of the Middle East would be desperately poor – but as it happens, most of it is desperately poor anyway. Oil is not uniformly distributed, and Syria doesn't have that much of it to begin with.

There is one sense in which this is true, which is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq created a spectacular disaster. George W. Bush's belief that if we just created enough of a power vacuum, democracy would magically rush in to fill the void – the precise belief which his father didn't have, mind you, which is why GHWB made the explicit and deliberate decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power – proved to be exactly as unwise as it sounds when written so plainly. The result was a giant area of anarchy and civil war smack in the center of the Middle East, into which would-be fighters from all over the region (as well as other regions) swarmed: veterans of Chechnya and Bosnia found new employment in Iraq, as Sunnis and Shi'ites alike slaughtered one another. This anarchy, never resolved, has been the perfect factory of chaos which quite easily spilled over elsewhere.

But there's one profound factor which has driven the violence in the Middle East far more than oil ever could: water.

The entire Middle East has been in a water, and thus food, crisis for decades. In Egypt, for example, the Nile Valley has been drying out ever since the Aswan Dam was completed in 1970; as this once-fertile soil turned to desert, people have streamed into Cairo, doubling and tripling its population by forming tremendous shantytowns. Unemployment was extreme, as it's not like the cities suddenly had tens of millions of new jobs in them; the government kept order as well as it could by importing grain in tremendous quantities (the government's by-far largest annual expense) and selling bread cheaply. Unfortunately, a drought in Russia and Ukraine, Egypt's primary suppliers, caused those countries to cut off wheat exports in 2011 – and the government collapsed soon after.

Syria is a similar story: the lead-in to the collapse of Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship was steady droughts in the Syrian countryside driving people into the cities by the hundreds of thousands, leading to mass unemployment and unrest. People's livelihoods had simply disappeared. Stories like this repeat across the entire Middle East.

When we talk about the ultimate causes of the situation, this is the fact we tend to ignore: at the root of it, there isn't enough water, and there isn't enough food, and droughts have been hitting the area harder and harder for a decade. When there isn't enough food, people move from the countryside to the cities; and now you have giant groups of people who still don't have jobs or food, and that's a recipe for the collapse of governments as surely today as it was in Europe in the 1840's.

If you've ever wondered why I have often said that we need to be very actively worried about climate change, this is it. Changing climate breaks agriculture in various areas; the people who were farming there don't magically turn into factory workers or teleport to places which are (slowly) becoming more fertile; they become desperate former farmers, generally flooding into cities. 

So given all of this, what can we actually conclude? I think the most important thing is that you can't bury your head in the sand, and assume that problems in some other part of the world aren't your own. A drought or a civil war somewhere else can easily start to spill over in unexpected ways.

If you want to avoid terrible consequences, what you have to do is plan, and in particular never let kindling build up. For example:

(1) If you have a large, disenfranchised, population, this is trouble waiting to start. The only way to fix this problem is to enfranchise them: give them a full stake in your society. Yes, that means treating people who are very different from you like full equals. Yes, it also means that your society – that is, the set of people that you're responsible for – now includes a bunch of people who are a lot poorer than you are, and this is going to be expensive to fix. You're not going to like it. But you're going to like the alternative a whole lot less.

(2) If there's political instability, or worst of all, food supply instability somewhere else in the world, it doesn't matter how far away it seems: you need to get together with everyone else and have a serious plan to deal with it. Once masses of hundreds of thousands of people start streaming across the countryside, chaos will follow in their wake. 

(3) Climate change isn't an abstract fear for the future; it's a major political problem right now. You can't punt it away and talk about what to do about carbon emissions or its effect on the economy; you have to sit down and come up with serious strategic plans for what to do when agricultural productivity in critical breadbaskets drops sharply, or watersheds dry up. Contingency planning for any government needs to include anything from hurricanes to long-term droughts, and not just as one-offs, but what to do if these start happening a lot. The reason you need to plan for this is that it's not a goddamned hypothetical, you idiot.

What do we do in the short term? This is harder, because right now Da'esh has been sending agents across the planet to cause as much trouble as they can. One obvious prong of the solution is ordinary police work; that's proven far more effective than complex intelligence solutions at catching terrorists. Another prong is stopping their support system at the root. Because Da'esh's plans are so focused on actual conquest, a collapse of their regime back home is likely to have more of an effect on their satellite agents than the collapse of a more ideologically-oriented organization like al-Qaeda.

A third prong is to stabilize the situation in Syria: here the key isn't so much blowing anyone up as giving people a way to stop fighting. There are three key obstacles to this. One is Da'esh, which seems to be pretty committed to fighting for its own sake; this is unlikely fixable by any means short of straightforward military defeat. One is the underlying lack of food availability. The third is that quite a lot of people have reason to believe that they will be killed either if al-Assad regains power, or if he loses power. They need a serious guarantee of personal safety in any peace.

What this probably means is that a peace agreement will require very heavy international support: aid to rebuild the country, neutral military forces to guarantee cease-fires, and some way to deal with the underlying economic issues. That's going to require heavy international coordination of the profoundly unsexy sort: not deploying giant militaries to bomb targets and wave banners, or propping up regimes and helping them "suppress insurgencies," but working on the long-term realities of helping locals build a government that they're invested in – even when said government is unlikely to be either similar to Western norms, or friendly to Western aims. Military force to crush Da'esh is almost certainly needed as a precondition to this, but it's by far the smaller part of the game.

The short version is: if you want to fix problems, you're going to have to deal with some very serious, expensive, and unsexy solutions. Because life isn't simple, and you can't just bomb your way out of trouble.

[1] See this recent editorial for the argument for switching to the term Da'esh more broadly: [Thanks to +Lisa Straanger for finding this more in-depth discussion than the Boston Globe op-ed which I had earlier cited]

[2] cf, for example, this infographic:

[3] cf, for example, this obituary of a proud French torturer:

[4] cf
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Many nice articles on Machine Learning here:
Understanding Convolutional Neural Networks for 
When we hear about Convolutional Neural Network (CNNs), we typically think of Computer Vision. CNNs were responsible for major breakthroughs in Image Classification and are the core of most Compute…
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A Last Gift from Ramanujan

Srinivasa Ramanujan is a legend of the mathematics world. The son of a shop clerk in rural India, he taught himself mathematics, primarily out of a book he borrowed from the library. The math that he did started out as rediscovering old results, and then became novel, and ultimately became revolutionary; he is considered to be one of the great minds of mathematical history, someone routinely mentioned in comparison with names like Gauss, Euler, or Einstein.

Ramanujan's work became known beyond his village starting in 1913, when he sent a letter to the British mathematician G. H. Hardy. Ramanujan had been spamming mathematicians with his ideas for a few years, but his early writing in particular tended to be rather impenetrable, of the sort that today I would describe as "proof by proctological extraction:" he would present a result which was definitely true, and you could check that it was true, but it was completely incomprehensible how he got it. But by the time he wrote to Hardy, both his clarity and the strength of his results had improved, and Hardy was simply stunned by what he saw. He immediately invited Ramanujan to come visit him in Cambridge, and the two became lifelong friends. 

Alas, his life was very short: Ramanujan died at age 32 of tuberculosis (or possibly of a liver parasite; recent research suggests this may have been his underlying condition), less than six years after his letter to Hardy.

When we talk about people whose early death was a tremendous loss to humanity, there are few people for whom it's as true as Ramanujan, and a recent discovery in his papers has just underlined why.

This discovery ties together two stories separated by centuries: The "1729" story, and the great mystery of Pierre Fermat's last theorem.

The 1729 story comes from a time that Hardy came to visit Ramanujan when he was ill. In Hardy's words: 

"I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney. I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. 'No', he replied, 'it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.'"

This has become the famous Ramanujan story (and in fact, 1729 is known to this day as the Hardy-Ramanujan Number), because it's just so ludicrously Ramanujan: he did have the reputation of being the sort of guy to whom you could mention an arbitrary four-digit number, and he would just happen to know (or maybe figure out on the spot) some profound fact about it, because he was just that much of a badass.

The other story is that of Fermat's Last Theorem. Pierre de Fermat was a 17th-century French mathematician, most famous for a theorem he didn't prove. In 1637, he jotted down a note in the margins of a book he had, about a generalization of the Pythagorean Theorem.

From Pythagoras, we know that the legs and hypotenuse of a right triangle are related by a²+b²=c². We also know that there are plenty of sets of integers that satisfy this relationship -- say, 3, 4, and 5. Fermat asked if this was true for higher powers as well: that is, when n>2, are there any integers a, b, and c such that aⁿ+bⁿ=cⁿ? He claimed that the answer was no, and that "he had a truly marvelous proof of this statement which was, unfortunately, too large to fit in this margin."

The consensus of mathematicians ever since is that Pierre de Fermat was full of shit: he had no such proof, and was bluffing.

In fact, this statement -- known as Fermat's Last Theorem, as his notes were only discovered after his death -- wasn't proven until 1995, when Andrew Wiles finally cracked it. Wiles' success was stunning because he didn't use any of the traditional approaches: instead, he took (and significantly extended) a completely unrelated-seeming branch of mathematics, the theory of elliptic curves, and figured out how to solve this. That theory is also at the heart of much of modern cryptography, not to mention several rather unusual bits of physics. (Including my own former field, string theory)

And so these two stories bring us to what just happened. A few months ago, two historians digging through Ramanujan's papers were amused to find the number 1729 on a sheet of paper: not written out as such, but hidden in the very formula which expresses that special property of the number, 9³+10³=12³+1. 

What turned this from a curiosity into a holy-crap moment was when the rest of the page, and the pages that went with it, suddenly made it clear that Ramanujan hadn't come up with 1729 at random: that property was a side effect of him making an attempt at Fermat's Last Theorem.

What Ramanujan was doing was looking at "almost-solutions" of Fermat's equation: equations of the form aⁿ+bⁿ=cⁿ±1. He had developed an entire mechanism of generating triples like these, and was clearly trying to use this to home in on a way to solve the theorem itself. In fact, the method he was using was precisely the method of elliptic curves which Wiles ended up using to successfully crack the theorem most of a century later.

What makes this completely insane is this: Wiles was taking a previously-separate branch of mathematics and applying it to a new problem.

But the theory of elliptic curves wasn't even invented until the 1940's.

Ramanujan was making significant progress towards solving Fermat's Last Theorem, using the mathematical theory which would in fact prove to be the key to solving it, while making up that entire branch of mathematics sort of in passing.

This is why Ramanujan was considered one of the greatest badasses in the history of mathematics. He didn't know about 1729 because his head was full of random facts; he knew about it because, oh yes, he was in the middle of doing yet another thing that might restructure math, but it didn't really solve the big problem he was aiming at so he just forgot about it in his stack of papers.

I shudder to imagine what our world would be like if Ramanujan had lived a longer life. He alone would probably have pushed much of mathematics ahead by 30 or 40 years.

If you want to know more about elliptic curves, Fermat, and how they're related, the linked article tells more, and links to more still. You can also read an outline of Ramanujan's life at , and about Fermat's Last Theorem (and why it's so important) at .
Ramanujan's manuscript. The representations of 1729 as the sum of two cubes appear in the bottom right corner. The equation expressing the near counter examples to Fermat's last theorem appears further up: α3 + β3 = γ3 + (-1)n. Image courtesy Trinity College library. Click here to see a larger ...
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Arun Moncy's profile photoJoe Philip Ninan's profile photo
Yes! His notebooks cramped with results are a pleasure to browse through!
Following link has scanned pdf files of his 3 books (at the end of the page).
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Sumit Kumar, Delhi based artist, has a wonderful collection of comics and graphic novel.  (
This is a fun four part web graphic novel  by him on not so funny history of Kashmir valley.
Character sketches are super cute, for enjoying some of the jokes, you will need to know a little bit of Hindi.
This piece is a gift to you paid for by the subscribers of NL. Subscribe to Newslaundry.
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Pepper gets lectured on Black Holes! :D
Pepper&Carrot episode 12: "Autumn Clearout" is finally online :-)

This episode was a challenge on many technical levels, especially for the visual effects. It was also another challenge to paint the color palette I had in mind. The translation team worked hard on this one; this episode has difficult words and sentences. 15 translations ( ca, de, en, es, fr, hu, mx, nl, pl, ru, sk, sv, uk, jp, cn ) are already available now. A big thanks to all of them.

✶ Sources files:
( Note: PNG hi-res ( for HD button ) and Krita sources files are still uploading while I'm writing this, it will take 3 or 4 hours, or maybe the night )

Thanks everyone again for supporting Pepper&Carrot !
I hope you'll enjoy this new episode. And happy Halloween for all of you in a country where celebrating it is part of the tradition!
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Sadly this enlightened school of thought gradually faded away. It would have been awesome!
2000 years before Laplace, the ancient Indian school of Ajivika believed in determinism and absence of free will.
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Very likely, even his father, Wiki page says so. Mauryan period was when it was most popular.
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And this seems to be the most detailed coverage that I've seen up to now.
Laszlo Babai has claimed an astounding theorem, that the Graph Isomorphism problem can be solved in quasipolynomial time. On Tuesday I was at Babai's talk on this topic (he has yet to release a pre...
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The anthropic principle shouldn’t be controversial. It's just conventional Bayesian science.
Trigger Warnings: Bayesian Probability and the Anthropic Principle! Once upon a time I was involved in setting up a cosmology conference in Valencia (Spain). The principal advantage of being among ...
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Fermat's last theorem and near misses

The discovery came when Ono and fellow mathematician Andrew Granville were leafing through Ramanujan's manuscripts, kept at the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge. "We were sitting right next to the librarian's desk, flipping page by page through the Ramanujan box," recalls Ono. "We came across this one page which had on it the two representations of 1729 [as the sum of cubes]. We started laughing immediately."

Ono and Granville spotted the famous number even though it didn't itself appear on the page. Ramanujan had only written down the equation $1^3 + 12^3 = 9^3 + 10^3.$ But what delighted the two mathematicians more than meeting the famous number in disguise was another equation appearing on the same page. It clearly showed that Ramanujan had been working on a problem that had become notorious way back in the 17th century and whose solution, in the 1990s, was a major mathematical sensation. It's known as Fermat's last theorem.

via +Randy Anderson 
Ramanujan's manuscript. The representations of 1729 as the sum of two cubes appear in the bottom right corner. The equation expressing the near counter examples to Fermat's last theorem appears further up: α3 + β3 = γ3 + (-1)n. Image courtesy Trinity College library. Click here to see a larger ...
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With lots of support worthy protests going on, this protest seems to be not getting the attention it deserves.
It is something which affects thousands of young researchers who are doing their best, in unbelievably bad research infrastructures in our Indian Universities.
UGC's proposal to withdraw the mere fellowship given to non-net qualified students has now thankfully been stopped by Govt. But I hope, they will also go ahead and increase their fellowship.

1) PhD students know very well about the upward triangle of academia. Only a fraction of PhD students continue in academia. But that doesn't mean money UGC spent on them gets wasted. They have already contributed to science by the time they finish PhD. So the investment made for  Science stays in Science.
2) UGC NET results may have  correlation with the student's broad knowledge of subject.  Ask any PhD student, what you need to complete a PhD is not just knowledge; a genuine interest to work hard on the specific problem is more important. And the only person who can evaluate that is the student's advisor.
Which is why University Professors should have the right to choose and fund the students they want to work with them.
3) Obviously, their should be some evaluation, but that should be based on research output (taking into consideration of infrastructure provided for their research in a case by case basis).  Not based on some general centralised exam.

Hence, I fully support their protest for a hike in their fellowship. Their contribution to science is invaluable, and they deserve to be paid more.
At its 510th meeting held on October 7, the UGC decided to discontinue the non-NET fellowship programme.
Arun Aniyan's profile photoKshitiz Mallick's profile photoJoe Philip Ninan's profile photoVarghese Robin George's profile photo
I have met many good professors from different Indian Universities. (obviously cannot claim to have met all, not even majority. And definitely my sample will have selection bias.)
But apart from that, letting them decide who to nominate among their student for funding, i think is a good compromise. Naturally, students will prefer to work with Profs, who are good and will pay them. And the ability of the number of students a Prof can fund being proportional to the work they do, will statistically imply better Profs get more funds for students and more incentive.
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Kerala - Kerala - Bangalore - Pune - Mumbai
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