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Shreevatsa R
Attended MIT
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Shreevatsa R

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First day of class. Professor walks up to blackboard, picks up chalk (he appears to be left-handed), starts writing, reaches the middle of the board, smoothly switches to his right hand, and continues writing in exactly the same handwriting.

That's what I once heard from my friend Arul Shankar at Princeton, about Conway the showman. :-)

Really a stunning figure of our times; you can just look at the "See also" section on his Wikipedia page:
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Horton_Conway&oldid=671152569#See_also
to get a glimpse of his breadth and the magical garden his mind seems to be.

There's a book out about him; sound fun.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/colm-mulcahy/john-h-conway-genius-at-p_b_7749796.html
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Play with 10 vertices a few times, then turn on "Only show alternate frames", set the number of vertices to 100, and watch polygons slowly unfurl themselves towards 45°-oriented ellipse-like shapes.
From Random Polygon to Ellipse. Take a polygon with random vertices, find the mid-points of its sides, and use these to create a new polygon, replacing the original. Do this repeatedly and an ellipse will eventually form! Number of vertices: 10, 100. Only show alternate frames (smoother) ...
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There is no motion here; it's just one polygon in the plane being replaced by another (and then scaled to fit, actually), but it's interesting how we perceive it as something happening in 3D. Conversely, I guess when animators want to represent transformations in 3D, the projection onto the screen is usually a simple linear transformation like this. I know this already, but still it's striking.
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And notation that is not so enormously clarifying. :-)

Very interesting nonetheless.
 
Numerical notation in common use in the Middle ages, before the widespread adoption of the "Arabic" numerals brought to the west by Al-Khwarizmi, but after his algorithms for place-value arithmetic were well-known and accepted.  There were many variations; this particular form was standard in 14th century France.

From David King, The Ciphers of the Monks: A Forgotten Number-notation of the Middle Ages, 2001.
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From Pritchett's wondrous treasure trove (http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00fwp/), a section on Ambedkar (http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/index.html), including a helpful timeline of his life (http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/timeline/index.html).

(I guess you could start from any link on her main page and spend a very long time pursuing it. Sadly already quite a bit of linkrot has crept in.)
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What a frightfully happy chap, the Master at 90+.

Nothing fazes him. Whether characters like his really exist in the world is not a concern. He knows what he's doing, knows he couldn't do anything else, knows he's good at what he does, is happy. If critics complain about something, he cheerfully accepts their criticism but with no regrets. He rereads the same old books he likes. ("Every year or so I read Shakespeare straight through.") He cannot recall any bad times in his life. He is aware of how fortunate he has been.

A. A. Milne was nasty to him, spearheading the public lynching of his reputation (http://strangeco.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-p-g-wodehousea-milne-feud.html) but having got it out of his system he continues to read Milne's books for pleasure.

A life well lived.

INTERVIEWER: Someone like Jack Kerouac, for instance, who died a few years ago?
WODEHOUSE: Jack Kerouac died! Did he?
INTERVIEWER: Yes.
WODEHOUSE: Oh . . . Gosh, they do die off, don’t they?
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever go back and reread your own books?
WODEHOUSE: Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER: Are you ever surprised by them?
WODEHOUSE: I’m rather surprised that they’re so good.

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3773/the-art-of-fiction-no-60-p-g-wodehouse
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Thanks for sharing this, Shreevatsa! Delightful read! 
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On the subject of "moderation is hard:" apparently one of the main reasons LEGO has moved away from having any kind of freeform building abilities in their MMO games is because of the extraordinary complexity and expense of solving a problem technically known as "dong detection."

The problem is pretty simple: if you get yourself into a situation where you have to have a literally zero failure rate on some kind of "fuzzy" classification problem, then you get into a world of having to do things like "every model must be examined and approved by a highly-trained rater before it can be made visible to anyone other than its builder." To put it mildly, This Does Not Scale.

(And no, it turns out that you can't simply automate dong detection. People build all sorts of complicated things that only look like penises from certain angles. If you were just trying to remove obvious penises and rely on a reporting mechanism to remove the ones that slip through the cracks, automation would work, but because of their market position they couldn't afford that -- they had to make sure there was human-level checking on everything before it became visible. This is one of the [many] reasons that (a) every site on the Internet with any common sense has abuse reporting mechanisms, and (b) writing software for kids is an absolute pain in the ass, and the only way to generally cope with it is to make interaction so limited that even the imagination of thousands of 6-year-olds can't produce anything which would offend someone.)

Now, practical hint: if you give kids a building toy, some of them are going to build penises. If you tell them that building penises is strictly forbidden and there are lots of rules against it, then you are going to get a lot more penises, and a lot more laughing about it.

Unfortunately, our current legal and political framework remains blissfully unaware of how 6-year-olds think, even as it seems to regularly mimic them.

h/t +Amber Yust.
Funny story - we were asked to make dong detection software for LEGO Universe too. We found it to be utterly impossible at any scale. #1 11:00pm May 29th 2015 via Twitter for iPhone · Reply Retweet Favorite · glassbottommeg. Megan Fox. Players would hide the dongs where the filtering couldn't ...
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Shreevatsa R

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+Cedric Villani writes [1] (emphasis added):

Let us however go back to the story above, and try to squeeze out some conclusions and advice, for whoever will take them.

First: It is not always the effort that you put in a research contribution which matters; sometimes it is just about being at the right place with the right idea, in contact with the right persons (just as prices should not be just determined by the amount of labour put in production, in spite of what the Soviet government would tell Kantorovich).

Second: It is always (or almost always) good to be curious, even about things which are not directly in your area. Neither the talk by Felix, nor the course by Michel, were dealing with kinetic theory of gases, my PhD subject; but I was very enthusiastic anyway.

Third: A great progress is not always a new theorem or conclusion. It may be a new proof, or a new point of view. Our job as mathematicians is not just to prove things; more generally, it is to provide better understanding, and this may also depend on a new viewpoint.

Fourth: Research, especially fundamental research, is unpredictable: nobody expected this encountering between non-Euclidean geometry, optimal transport and entropy (I did not expect it either!) But now it has turned into a very fruitful field, and solved a few big problems in the area.

The last comment is about the nature of research. Yes, a research system is about publishing, and fundings, and positions, and science agencies, and fundings, and research strategies, and networks of laboratories, and spending billions of dollars, euros, renmibi or whatever. But in the end, the key moment will be one in which somewhere, in some brain, some spark of a new idea is lit. A significant goal of all those complicated research ecosystems is to increase the opportunity of this precious, fragile and unpredictable seed, anxious to grow into a fully developed theory.

[1] http://cedricvillani.org/plant-your-math-and-let-it-grow/
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Now you can generate your own dreamy neural net image

#deepdream  

For those of you who liked the post I shared a couple of weeks ago about the images generated by neural nets (old post: https://plus.google.com/+JeffDean/posts/jVBUgDxhbRd), I'm happy to announce that Alexander Mordvintsev, +Christopher Olah , and Mike Tyka have put together an open-source iPython notebook containing the code that generates these images, and you can play around with it on your own images.  (Note: this notebook depends on a few other packages, so you have to have enough persistence to install numpy and caffe to get this to work).  The iPython notebook is at https://github.com/google/deepdream, but see the blog post linked to by this post for details.

The blog post asks that people tag images they generate and share with #deepdream , so I suspect you can keep looking at that tag to see all kinds of weird and wonderful images.

Have fun, everyone!
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The power of notation: "Chinese Dumbass Notation"
(via Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-is-Chinese-Dumbass-Notation)
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Observing children in classrooms — much as an anthropologist's field work — led to this book How Children Fail by John Holt. I'd posted a line from it a few days ago (https://plus.google.com/+ShreevatsaR/posts/MyPZTXMWYEE) and since then ended up reading the whole book.

This is a gripping and deeply disturbing book. Practically every page is quotable. Of course not every observation will apply to you, but it has made me think of my childhood in ways I had not considered before, and brought up memories I didn't know I had. Often while reading the book I have had to pause and stare out the window for half an hour conscious of my tremendous good fortune.

I feel everyone interested in children's education (and who isn't?) should read this book, or try to undertake such observations on their own. The author has updated the book a couple of decades after it was first written, by inserting new thoughts with a line drawn on the left-side margin.

Apparently later in life (this was his first book) the author came to believe that the solution was to do away with school altogether ("unschooling"). Reading this book, it is easy to see why. I am not so convinced of this conclusion, not just because of "known devil" considerations but also because I have learned from experience that when people describe problems they are usually right, and when they suggest solutions they are usually wrong. But you don't have to read this book as advocating for such a thing (though there's a bit of that in the very last few pages) — just as a look at what goes on in a classroom, it is both believable and terrifying.
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"""
It's a well-established principle that if you take somebody who is doing something for his or her own pleasure and offer some kind of outside reward for doing it – and let the person become accustomed to performing the task for that reward – then take the reward away, the individual will stop that activity. You can even train nursery school youngsters who love to draw pictures to stop drawing, simply by giving them gold stars or some other little bonus for a couple of months... and then removing that artificial “motivation.”
In fact, I think our society expects school to get students to the point where they do things only for outside rewards. People who perform tasks for their internal reasons are hard to control. Now I don't think that teachers get up in the morning and say to themselves, “I'm going to go to school today and take away all those young people's internal motivations”... but that's exactly what often happens.
"""
— John Holt, in an interview with Mother Earth News in 1980. (Via https://www.quora.com/I-really-want-to-live-before-I-die-What-should-I-do/answer/Marcus-Geduld lightly corrected from https://books.google.com/books?id=eYSFAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA71&lpg=PA71)


"""
This idea that children won't learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorists, "positive and negative reinforcements," usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me, "If we didn't make children do things, they wouldn't do anything." Even worse, they say, "If I weren't made to do things, I wouldn't do anything."

It is the creed of a slave.
"""
— John Holt, in How Children Fail (p. 69 in linked PDF)
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A detailed FAQ on the idea of Universal Basic Income or Guaranteed Income: https://www.reddit.com/r/BasicIncome/wiki/index

(As an aside, particularly interesting is the section which advocates for it via the lenses of various ideologies.)

See also http://theunitofcaring.tumblr.com/post/119685379936/why-abolish-the-minimum-wage especially the last three paragraphs.
reddit: the front page of the internet
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Regarding the "unitofcaring" link, I found it rather amusing how the author starts with calm rational argument ( to signal intelligence ) and then descends into moral outrage ( to signal loyalty ).   
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Education
  • MIT
    2007 - 2010
  • CMI
    2004 - 2007
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