May 7th, 2010
|11:06 pm - I am an academic descendent of Markov|
My advisor officially approved my thesis and I now Dr. Subramanian. Looking
up by genealogy was a breeze since my advisor's advisor is on Wikipedia. I
am an academic descendent of the famous mathematician Markov.
April 28th, 2010
|11:50 am - "Show me your papers": The statistical version|
Several commentators have claimed the Arizona's new
immigration law to be unconstitutional. Rightly so. The most controversial
provisions are vague in specifying when "reasonable suspicion" exists. It
is clear that the only way for a police officer to suspect somebody is
their race, which would violate the Equal Protection clause (14th
amendment). The law also violates the fourth amendment right against
However, I do think there is a way to ask someone to show their paper
without violating the constitution. State law enforcement should choose
people on the streets at "random" and ask them for paper. I am not using
the word random to mean arbitrary. I am instead using random to mean the
mathematical definition of random. The government decides to ask say
thousand folks for their papers every day and the candidates for the check
are decided by some random number generator --- something that says check
the Nth person who drives through the intersection of X and Y cross street.
The candidates, or say victims, would be uniformly distributed across the
state, thereby not violating the 14th amendment.
The tricky issue is the 4th amendment. How can random searches pass the
"reasonable suspicion" test? Well, we can rely on probability and the
definition of reasonable. Everyone knows that there are undocumented
immigrants in Arizona. They constitute around 5% of Arizona's population.
The probability that any randomly chosen person is an undocumented
immigrant is therefore 5%. While 5% might be a low number, think about it.
If it were 30%, would it satisfy the "reasonable suspicion" requirement?
Who gets to decide at what point pure random checks become constitutional?
Lawmakers or a judge?
February 20th, 2010
|05:10 pm - Pity the tamil guy trying to get married|
I recently came across this blog post talking about how your race affects
the response you get in the dating site okcupid.com. The
folks in the worst situation were Indian men, who were replied to only
20.8% of the time (though there are others in the low 20s as well); and
Black women, who are replied to 34.3% of the time, which is still way more
than what the poor Indian male can manage.
I was curious to know how these dynamics play in an Indian match-making
context. I don't run a dating site and I have no way of getting such data.
However, I could easily get aggregate counts of women and men of each age
by simply searching for it. The chart below plots the number of Tamil women
and men by age on tamilmatrimony.com. The peak for women is at age
25, with 6499 women, while the peak for men is at age 28, with 21265 men.
Holy moly, that is 3.27 men competing for each woman. The aggregates are
similar: 181,267 men competing for 54,662 women (ratio 3.31).
It is hard to explain such a disparity. This is my hypothesis. Men are more
economically advanced than women, and are more likely to be in a position
to use computers and access the internet. And for this to be the case, lots
of families should consist exclusively of male or female children
(otherwise the tech-savvy brother could create an match-making profile for
their sister). With smaller families being strongly encouraged twenty to
thirty years ago, this is a strong possibility. This also means that for
identically placed families, the economic advancement of their only child
depends on the child's gender. I find it hard to wrap my head around this.
If you are family with ten children, five male and five female, I can
understand disproportionately favoring the male children, because of
existing social norms at that time. But, if it is a family with only one
child, why would a parent not want their only child to do well in life,
irrespective of gender.
Gender-based economic disparity is likely to be lower in groups that are
more socially and economically advanced. The conventional wisdom is that
Tambrams are economically better placed in society. The graph below shows
the numbers for Tambrams. The ratio of the peaks is 1.82 men for each woman
(1313 women aged 25, and 2389 men aged 28). The ratio of the aggregates is
2.07 (8741 women and 18104 men).
Whatever you conclude about the reasons why such a disparity exists, one
thing is certain: the average male on tamilmatrimony.com is getting royally
Do you have an explanation for this data?
January 21st, 2010
|02:05 pm - Why does IIT Madras want to know my religion?|
IIT Madras is hiring new faculty. I heard ahead of time that an
advertisement was coming out on the 20th and I was eagerly looking forward
to see it. What struck me most was how unwelcoming it was.
The advertisement started of inviting "applications from Indian
Nationals with an established record ..." (emphasis mine). I understand
IITs are a government institution, but why restrict faculty positions to
citizens. State-run universities in the US allow non-US citizens to work,
and the USCIS exempts non-immigrants employed in institutions of higher
education from their normal H-1B cap.
The experience asked of Assistant Professor applicants includes
"Candidates preferably should be below 35 years of age." Ageism is
institutionalized in India, but shouldn't institutes of higher learning
lead the way in being non-discriminatory? Even IISc's unofficial
recruitment page is explicit in its discrimination. The UT-Austin
faculty recruitment website has a simple line that says "The University of
Texas at Austin is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer."
Sometime ago, I came across the following statement on D. E. Shaw's
recruitment page (emphasis mine). I would be so happy to work in
such a place.
The members of the D. E. Shaw group do not discriminate in employment
matters on the basis of sex, race, colour, caste, creed, religion,
pregnancy, national origin, age, military service eligibility, veteran
status, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, or any other
protected class. Note that for us, this is more than just legal
boilerplate. We are genuinely committed to these principles, which form
an important part of our corporate culture.
And, when it comes to the application form itself, I fail to
understand the point of filling out an application form with details that
are already in one's CV. What is the point of asking one to fill in the
"number" of papers? What does differentiating between "Journal" and
"Conference" publications serve? Journals and conferences are valued
differently in different areas. Moreover the tier of each
conference/journal itself has to be considered. A quote from an article
about journals versus conferences in Computer Science.
Some lesser-ranked universities evaluate faculty on the basis of journal
publications, because the Dean of Engineering is unable or unwilling to
understand computer science. In most scientific fields, journals have
higher standards than conferences; computer science is a rare exception.
A top-ranked CS department can convince the dean to use the proper
evaluation metric. A lower-ranked CS department cannot (the dean may
think the department is trying to fool him or her). If you are at one of
these universities, you will need to publish in journals, probably by
submitting slightly revised versions of your conference papers to
journals. The rush for people at lower-ranked universities (some of whom
are excellent researchers, and some of whom are not) to submit even
marginal results to journals is another regrettable factor that tends to
lower the overall quality of journals.
And I don't know what the difference is between an international and a
national venue. After all, the famed AAAI Conference, till a couple of
years ago was a national conference. Do national conferences and
journals allow papers only from "Indian Nationals" just like IIT Madras
What offended me the most, and prompted this post is the application asking
a person's religion. How is this even remotely connected to making a
decision on a candidate's application? The only connection I can see is
discrimination. I have not seen private sector companies or other
educational institutions ask this information, so, I don't think IIT Madras
is mandated to collect this information, even for the purpose of collecting
This application form would have been prepared at the direction of some
IIT-M faculty members. After all, they are the people who make decisions
and know what information they need to make such a decision. I am surprised
they asked for this field to be there, or it was not caught by any one.
December 17th, 2009
|10:34 am - My holiday giving|
I usually stay silent and anonymous (if possible) about my donations. I
wanted to change that to encourage others to donate as well. It is not that
these organizations need my endorsement. I am a nobody and some of these
organizations are super-huge. I am hoping there is a chance that you might
be encouraged to give as well. The organizations I gave to:
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I am a big fan of the ACLU
and I am inspired by their commitment to civil liberties guaranteed by the
United States Constitution. Safeguarding your rights doesn't come easy and
thanks to the ACLU for fighting for our rights. ACLU lost its single
largest funding source, David Gelbaum. Mr. Gelbaum has given the ACLU $ 94
million in the past five years ($ 300 million to other
organizations). He has run into some personal financial issues and the
ACLU is looking for support everywhere they can to bridge this funding gap.
The ACLU needs your help. Please help them out, if you can. Cool fact:
Because of my donation, I became a card-carrying member of the ACLU.
Vibha Every year, a large part of my small charitable giving goes
to Vibha. Vibha's vision is to "ensure that every underprivileged child
attains his or her right to education, health and opportunity." I am a
volunteer with this organization. We'd really appreciate your help. Vibha
supports some fantastic grass roots level projects. I will
mention one here. Sikshana is an organization that has the
potential to revive the quality of the primary school system in Karnataka.
They reach over 25,000 children from 216 primary schools (there are close
to 50000 public primary schools in Karnataka). Sikshana's methodology is
scalable and at some point the government will hopefully adopt their
approach. Please donate generously to Vibha to support projects
People's Union for Civil Liberties. The PUCL is India's equivalent
of the ACLU. They are not as organized as the ACLU. They do fight for the
same cause, which is especially harder in India, where civil liberties are
not well-protected by the Constitution or the courts.
National Federation of the Blind (NFB) The NFB supports education,
research and technology programs offered to the blind.
Wikipedia. If you are reading this, you have an internet
connection, and you likely know of Wikipedia. It is a non-profit and relies
on donations to keep it running. I am sure you don't want to see it go
November 19th, 2009
|01:04 am - Shailesh Gandhi kisses your privacy goodbye|
Recently, I blogged about an important dispute related to the Right
to Information Act. The dispute dealt with two issues 1) that of hard copy
verus soft copy data 2) protecting the privacy of students.
Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi ruled on this issue. The good
news: IITs have to provide a soft copy of the data. The bad, rather ugly
news: can kiss your privacy goodbye.
Here is a quote from this truly horrible ruling (the PDF is here. It is
only 3 pages. You can read it yourself)
the Commission rules that merely giving the name of the person and the
pin code with the marks obtained cannot be considered as an invasion of
the privacy of an individual
If revealing an individual's test scores publicly does not violate privacy,
I don't know what does.
I hope somebody appeals this ruling to a High Court or the Supreme Court.
After all, India's courts have consistently ruled that the right to privacy
is a fundamental right. The courts have also ruled that the right to
information is a fundamental right. The RTI act talks about the conflict
between the right to privacy and the right to information.
information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which
has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would
cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the
Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information
Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that
the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information
As someone who cherishes both the right to privacy and the right to
information, I am sure there will be complicated situations that courts
will consider in the future, in deciding when public interest justifies
disclosure and when it does not. This case, in my opinion, doesn't even
come close to causing a conflict. No public interest is served by revealing
a student and their test score to the public. Mr. Shailesh Gandhi did not
even bother to articulate when that would be true in his ruling. Violating
an individual's fundamental right to privacy at the very least deserves a
few more drops of ink.
PS: Thanks to Prof. Gautam Barua for his comment :)
November 1st, 2009
|10:02 am - Important RTI dispute involving the IITs|
Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi is going to hear an
important dispute relating to the Right To Information act. Prof.
Rajeev Sharma, a computer sciences professor at IIT Kharagpur has filed an
RTI application seeking test scores of all applicants who appeared in the
IIT Joint Entrance Examination in 2006. The JEE exam board is stalling the
It has been very hard to get complete information on this dispute.
Reporting, like it is usually the norm, has been pathetic. Here is what I
understand of where this dispute currently stands.
Some irregularities in the JEE exam
The plaintiff Prof. Kumar has been doggedly seeking
information about the IIT JEE 2006 examination. He alleges
irregularities in calculating which students made the cut. In fact, the
Calcutta High Court is currently hearing a case on this very issue.
The court asked the IITs to submit the formulae used to calculate
applicants who are offered admits. The IITs have submitted several
different formulae on different occasions. Moreover, they
destroyed all answer sheets before they were supposed to.
Soft-copy versus hard-copy
Now, let's come back to the RTI application that that IITs have not yet
responded to. Times of India has reported that this is an issue of
soft-copy of data versus hard-copy. The paper reports that the IITs have
offered to provide printouts of the data (running to tens of thousands of
pages) at cost to the plaintiff. This clearly would be ridiculous.
However, I am not sure if this is the case. Prof. Gautam Barua, Director
of IIT Guwahati, who is also responsible for the entrance examinations,
responded to me that the dispute was not one of hard or soft copy, but one
of privacy. I could not reach the reporter and got no response from Prof.
Kumar. So, I have to give the IITs the benefit of doubt.
Prof. Barua claimed to me that the IITs offered to provide the data after
removing personally identifying information. In fact, a news
report seems to corroborate this claim.
IIT Guwahati Director Gautam Barua has said that he had offered the
appellant data for scrutiny with the names made anonymous. IIT Guwahati
[...] had refused to provide marks and personal details of candidates on
a CD as requested by Prof Rajeev Kumar of IIT Kharagpur.
Releasing personal information of applicants would be ridiculous. However
Prof. Barua did not clarify where he stood on the soft-copy issue.
Where it stands now
To me this is such an open and shut case. There is no question that privacy
should not violated. There is also no question that information should be
provided in the most accessible form, in this case a soft-copy. I don't
know why this has been dragging for so long.
Prof. Barua agrees that they have not provided the application any
information yet, and are waiting for the CIC's hearing. This puzzles me.
They could have provided a soft copy of data without private information on
their own accord.
Shailesh Gandhi is going to hear this soon. I hope he clarifies one
important piece of this issue. The RTI act clearly specifies that
information includes electronic data and that citizens have a right to this
data in an electronic form or in the form of printouts. The act does not
specify that a soft-copy, where available, should be preferred. I hope he
"information" means any material in any form, including records,
documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars,
orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data
material held in any electronic form and information relating to any
private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other
law for the time being in force;
["right to information"] includes the right to
obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video
cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such
information is stored in a computer or in any other device;
October 22nd, 2009
|08:29 pm - On climate change, 'Glenn Beck types' descend on Indian TV|
Sagarika Ghose is currently a senior editor on CNN-IBN. I am
not particularly a fan of her. To be fair to her, I might be
misrepresenting her by taking issue with a couple of occasions where she
has been, let's say, less than stellar. As with all of Indian news channels
in English, she is an active champion of the shouting match
culture. Don't take my comments to be condemnation of her, but
merely two incidents where I did not like what she did.
Climate change is in the news because India's Minister of State for
Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh recently suggested that India
should look to curb its CO2 emissions. CNN-IBN had a shouting
match to discuss "India selling out to the West on Climate Change?".
Sagarika Ghose then went on to tweet these enlightening words
- 1. Interesting point raised last night: our problem is poverty, not climate. lets first get rich, then we can go green.
- 2. The richest countries in the world are the greenest. the fact is we need hell-for-leather development, nothing will happen to our skies!
- 3. Is even the science of climate change dodgy? is there any evidence that CO2 is bad for us? who says the climate's changing for the worse?
- 4. for those interested--read The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lamborg. huge amounts spent on "green" tech is a waste of money
- 5. @scanman lamborg says drought deluges were regular 100 years ago when no greenhouse gases.Difference: today you see them on TV!!.
It is reasonable to say that India should ignore climate change since
poverty is a larger issue (assuming that development conflicts with the
climate), but to totally misrepresent facts and science is atrocious.
She mentioned Bjorn Lamborg. I recommend that you watch his
awesome TED talk on what global priorities we should set. Among
other things, this talk argues that we should not fight global warming now.
Addressing the problem and accepting a scientific fact are two separate
issues. I have not read his book, and do not know if he outright denies
global warming. Even if he does, she should have put it in perspective in
light of the overwhelming scientific consensus being in the other camp.
About the Indian media, I was happy that we did not have clowns like Glenn
Beck who grossly misrepresented facts in topics they were not experts on.
I have to to change that view now.
October 7th, 2009
|12:33 am - Statues make for better judges in India's Supreme Court|
India's founders could have installed statues in the Supreme Court to
function as judges and these statues would have done a better job than
India's current crop of judges in the Supreme Court. For one, these statues
wouldn't be able to hear any stupid cases. Like the one about Mayawati and
I am absolutely annoyed over India's Supreme Court hearing this case. I am
no student of law, and would appreciate if any one could point out what I
am missing here.
Just to recap, this is the story. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister
Mayawati seems to be megalomaniac. She wants to unveil several statues of
herself throughout the state, costing taxpayers about Rs. 5.5 billion ($
120 million). Unsurprisingly, this has riled up several people. Activists
are seeking all avenues to stop this nonsense. A common strategy in such
situations is to approach the judiciary. So far so good.
They file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India's Supreme Court. For
any case there needs to be a litigant, the affected party. Presumably, a
few taxpayers file a case against the government claiming that their tax
rupees are wasted. For them to have a case shouldn't the administration
have done something unconstitutional, or have broken the law? How can any
democratic system allow any case where litigants argue about an
administration and legislature's spending priorities? Some folks might want
to spend money on education, some might favor welfare measures, while
others might like statues. Aren't elections meant to settle these issues?
What legal basis do courts have to hear such cases? And what basis are they
going to use to make any judgement? Are they going to prevent the
government from installing Mayawati's statues? What if the statues were
those of Gandhi? What if the plan was to install one statue of Gandhi? When
does a rightful expenditure become wrongful and what authority does the
court have? Forget the authority, what capability do they have? How did
judges suddenly assume they were smart enough to decide how to allocate a
What next? Are they going to direct the Central Government to invade
I usually use the word moron to describe such actors. In this
instance, doing so would be insulting to morons.
One interesting outcome of the case is that, the Supreme Court threatened
to get the Central Government dismiss the UP State Government if they
would not follow the court's orders. Now, I do agree that any government
should faithfully follow any court's orders. Disobedience should be an
impossible solution. Otherwise, our system of Rule of Law would break down.
What happens if the Central government refuses to listen to a court's
orders? The court stages a coup?
In this situation, statues serving as judges would have done a better job.
They would not have heard this case at all.
September 5th, 2009
|09:50 pm - India's police state in Manipur|
I very briefly mentioned about Indian Government atrocities in
Manipur, while talking about the abject state of civil liberties in
On July 23rd this year calm unarmed Chongkam Sanjit, a 27-year old was
murdered by Manipur police. Here are a series of pictures that
document Sanjit's murder. Shoma Chaudhury's excellent story from
a month ago goes over the history of violent state overreach in Manipur.
CNN-IBN has an educative news story on the same issue.
Manipur's story seems to like that of Blackwater in Iraq.
Only that it is by India's own government on its own people.
PS: I have written several posts where I have complained about India's
media and CNN-IBN. I have to give them their due for this story and others
by Arjit Sen. Good reporting.