## Antilibrary of Umberto Eco

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I have had a similar experience about myown book collection. People expect that if you have books then you must have read them. But this is exactly what I hold the books for, a reference tool for further knowledge. And then they have a beautiful word in Japanese which describes the spirit in which you buy more unread books.

Tsundoku:buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up on shelves floors or nightstands

## Faking Feedback

How to score brownie points over one’s opponents?

Or

How much lower can one stoop academically?

Disclaimer: This story has a no particular names, feel free to fill in what you like. This is not a work of fiction.

This is a story that I heard recently. Though the events mentioned in the story are almost 2 decades old. The story is set circa 1996. The
story is an esteemed academic institution in the state of UP.

In this institute in a particular department, among many other faculties there were two protagonists of our story. For the sake of keeping a track of their activities let us call them X and Y. Now as it happens in many academic institutes, and in between many academics, X and Y did not go along very well. Added to that they say that X was a bit eccentric to put it mildly and a crackpot to put it okayishly. Less said about Y is better. It would be rather revealed by actions. They would fight bitterly and did not see each other in a good light. Now, it so happens that in this institute at end of the semester the students are given feedback forms for each of the courses that they take. For this purpose another faculty member distributes the forms on the last day of the course. These forms are collected, sealed and given to the HoD for evaluation. Based on the feedback the HoD calls the faculty member to discuss issues worth discussing. This entire process is supposedly confidential and the discussion happens after the exams are over.

Now it so happened that in this fateful year, Y went on the last day of X’s class to give the feedback form to the students. The forms were duly collected, sealed and given to the HoD. Now comes the interesting part of the story. When the HoD started to read the feedback forms, he noticed that a few of them were a bit too harsh and nasty. Now it so turns out that though X was a bit eccentric, but was quite popular with the students. So this naturally created a doubt in the HoDs mind. Why only this year the students have given a bad review of X?

So the HoD glanced through the feedback forms which were a bit too negative. And guess what! He discovered that the handwriting in all of them was uncannily similar. How can different students writing negative feedback have all the same handwriting? Well one explanation is that they all conspired to do so. Practicing for hours on end to make sure all of their handwriting are similar! But an easier one is that a single person must have written all these negative reviews! Keeping this in mind the HoD compared these negative feedback forms with the handwriting of people he knew. And then guess what it matched the handwriting of someone from his department!

Now you will get 10/10 points if you have already guessed what happened next. It so turned out that the handwriting on the negative feedback sheets matched that of Y.  After this Y was summoned by the HoD to explain this uncanny resemblance between the handwritings. Well Y did not have much of an answer, even if any answer was given, it is not known to us. Perhaps Y will remember this episode for life. So after this Y was punished for faking student feedback form. This perhaps would be unique charge against a faculty in a premier institute. The punishment was of banishment from the department for one full semester. When he came back he was super embarrassed due to this. Or as they would put in Hindi किसी को मु़ह दिखाने लायक नही राहा

And it so happened that this episode was followed by exit of Y from this institute a few years later. It is said that in the new institute that Y joined he continued with his old ways of deceit and treachery, and of cheap tactics. The only difference being that there was no one here to challenge Y and his cheap ways. The sad part is that this continued for over a decade and Y was able to form an empire at the new institute. But then the Indian academia has many such people.

Reflecting on this I think how much lower can one fall academically to score brownie points over one’s opponents? On another hand I feel like laughing at botched up attempts to do this, reminds me of Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder.

What kind of person would indulge in this behavior? Is such a person fit for any confidential work? And why should any academic institute harbour such a person?

This story needs to be spread, told and retold for Y is still out there…

Posted in corruption | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

## Research and public outreach

I like to think that the book writing, public outreach activities can be not oppositional to doing research. I have been inspired to do research projects by thinking about different ways of talking to the public, and I think that you can get the word out there even to your own scientific colleagues by writing a good book.

## Sweet (Potato) Harvest

A couple of years back I shifted to a flat. We did not have a single plant in our house. So we brought a couple of pots in which to put some plants. We started with “money plant” but it seemed it did notlike growing in our window. We tried many other things but none survived. All of them would die, perhaps due to lack of sunlight or some infestation.

It so turned out that the sweet potato is not that sweet after all. It has a low GI (glycemic index). Some of the sweet potatoes that we had brought, and kept in the corner developed some really cool purple coloured shoots. We then thought of planting these and see. And grow they did. The shoots grew at an astounding rate, as if they were on some sort of steroids. Withinn a week they scaled the height of the window (~ 5 ft.). We had to manage them horizontally afterwards. But this was it, the plants became very dense and we planted some more. So we had a nice vine over the window. We never bothered to see if they
had grown any roots that we could eat. It was more used like an ornamental plant.

When we shifted to our current home we brought the pot with us. For travel, we had cut all the branches and left the root intact. But after coming the new house, where we had access to the sunlight. The plant did not grow, it died. That is when we planted some new shoots in the pot, two of them. And then forgot about them. We water them daily but, it was in a rather inaccessible corner of the balcony so, we could not look at it properly.

It so happened one day I noticed something strange. Something (most probably a bird) had dug out the soil in that pot and uncovered what was unmistakably surface of a sweet potato. There were beak like marks on the surface. It was like a treasure was exposed. I promptly covered the exposed area with extra soil. It was then that I noticed that the plant had grown a lot but since its branches were hanging low and at an angle than hid it from us, we had not seen them.

So, this is the background. Yesterday, being a Sunday we decided to take out the potatoes out. So what follows is a picture essay of uncovering the harvest of the sweet potatoes.

The Plant with its leaves.

Put a paper on the floor to collect the soil.

Start the digging. Felt like a forager!

First sweet glimpse!

And they are out!

With the roots removed.

Washed!

Portrait shot No. 1

Portrait Shot No. 2

Nicely cut and washed!

Removing the extra water.

In the fry pan!

And with salt and pepper!

That’s it for now folks!

Posted in plants | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

## Why I am an Atheist

Beliefs make it easier to go through hardships, even make them pleasant.

You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. As Mahatmaji is great, he is above criticism; as he has risen above, all that he says in the field of politics, religion, Ethics is right. You agree or not, it is binding upon you to take it as truth. This is not constructive thinking. We do not take a leap forward; we go many steps back.

It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary.

Open your eyes and see millions of people dying of hunger in slums and huts dirtier than the grim dungeons of prisons; just see the labourers patiently or say apathetically while the rich vampires suck their blood; bring to mind the wastage of human energy that will make a man with a little common sense shiver in horror. Just observe rich nations throwing their surplus produce into the sea instead of distributing it among the needy and deprived. There are palaces of kings built upon the foundations laid with human bones. Let them see all this and say “All is well in God’s Kingdom.” Why so? This is my question.

One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.

Posted in freedom, India, morals, religion | Tagged , | 5 Comments

1 The problems of academic misfits
===================================

Many things are said which might require a background without
which they may appear to be incoherent, or is it that they are
actually incoherent and background is not required at all?
Maybe I should less drink coffee, otherwise such sense making
non-stuff comes of me out ….

Miserable lives, pathetic people:

1
——

What happens when you get stuck up with a job that you do not like,
but have to do it because you could not get to the place you wanted
to be in? At times you feel that the place doesn’t deserve you. You
are over-smart for the place. The place is meant for people who are
far behind you in the evolutionary seqeuence. This is the feeling
that many people in my working place share. They think that they
are smart, and are stuck up at this place because of some bad
luck. Their heart doesn’t lie in the work that they are doing, but
somewhere else. So what do they do to overcome this personal
failure of theirs? They make an attempt to make other people’s
likfe miserable, just as their own is. I am particularly using the
word attempt, as it does not succeed. This just shows the
pathological state of mind they are in. Their personal failure of
not being able to get into a place where they think their
intelligence might be in good company, is displayed in the malice
they carry around with their persona.

2
——

They would take up smallest issues and make mountains out it. Hold
a personal vendetta against the ones they dislike. This comes to
fore in public meetings where their pathetic attempts to undermine
other people’s work. So pathetic are their attempts that one can
only but laugh at their incompetence even in doing this. This
reminds of the series of Rowan Atkinson called The Black Adder. Its
dark comedy all around. They should forget about getting to their
dream place with this kind of incompetence. Most of them are
rejects from places of so called “higher intelliegence” who by hook
or crook somehow found their way in this space. Others tell you
that their know this person, or is related to that person /who/ is
at this high position. Maybe they all conspired to get them
here. They were so incompetent that even such people in high
position could not get them to their dream places. And what is the
result? They are perpetually under cloud of failure, and hence they
want to see others also fail. How can others succeed when they, the
intelligent beings of the lot, have failed?

3
——

People who have realized this truth behind their hollow lives give
them the most fear. Because they know these people are not going to
be intimidated by the false aura of intelligence they carry around
them. These people can see through them for what they are. They do
not give them the false respect that they force their juniors and
people working under them to give them. “Call me Sir!” they say, as
if the British crown has knighted them. And they are offended deeply
if they are not called so. This behaviour is anti-academic, if
nothing else. In other places I have seen even the most senior most
scientists being called by their first names. But these “academic
misfits” think otherwise, to boost their fragile self-ego they make
the people under them give them respect forcibly. This perhaps
gives them a 10 footer.

4
——

The very fact that they were not able to get to a place which they
so much desired, but instead their getting into a ‘popular’ place
makes them think that all around them are like that. For jandiced
people the whole world appears with a yellowish tint. So it is with
this people suffering from academia misfitia. They think they being
so much intelligent and superior to others are stuck here, /hence/
the other lesser mortals must also be so. So they think that all
others in such a place are also misfits, and perhaps of a worse
kind (we yet don’t even have a PhD!).

5
——

To justify their presence in a place where they do not belong what
do they do? They change the goals of the place so that they will
somehow fit in the new goals. This is the easiest thing to do. When
facts are against you, you change the standards of
measurement. This is much like what Rutherford had said about
science: “Science is what scientists do.” So the goal of a place is
the work that people there do. This way they can justify whatever
work that they do, no matter whether it fits the agenda of the
place or not. But what do they do when you point out that this does
not fit into the original agendas? They know they cannot get any
higher in academia, if they could they would not be here. So they
adapt a time tested approach of being a douchebag. If you cannot
rise above others, make others sink. Make their work look as if it
is nothing, as /compared/ to theirs. Attack them in public seminars
to make them look like fools in front of the people. But even this
attempt ends in failure. How much failure one can take? Then they
claim that theirs is a ‘serious’ kind of work and any other work
which they do not do is a ‘popular’ kind of work, not worthy of
anything. And academics is serious work, not popular. If it is so
why are they in a place where this happens? This is because they
are themselves not good enough for serious work, perhaps only
semi-serious work, hence they are stuck here.

6
——
And what is the nature of ‘serious’ work that they take pride in?
It is the pinnacle of a huge commercial industry, where they are
basking in lights given off from others. There is a joke which is
similar to this situation. A scientist, one by one plucks of all
the legs of a cockroach and yells it to after pulling out one
leg. Initially the cockroach tries to run with the remaining legs,
but after last leg is removed it can no longer run. The scientist
concludes that the cockroach cannot hear when all the legs are
removed. This joke is related to much of the ‘(semi?)-serious’ work
by the misfits. They do the first error in statistics, confusing
correlation with causality (no wonder they are stuck here). They
think that it is their final leg pulling which produces the
required results and this they get published in the ever breaking
news hungry pop-media! All the false pride that they carry and
respect that they get is due to the position they got themselves in
by hook or by crook. It is this position as gatekeepers of the last
leg, they have developed the pathetic arrogance that they have.

There is much to say about these matters, but that will be another
post….

Posted in irony, life, people | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

## Gandhi on Textbooks

M. K. Gandhi

Harijan Vol VII, No. 31 pg. 1, 9 September 1939

Text Books

The craze for ever-changing text books is hardly a healthy sign from
the educational standpoint. If text books are treated as a vehicle for
education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A
teacher who teaches from text books does not impart originality to his
pupils. He himself becomes a slave of the text books and has no
opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the
less text books there are the better it is for the teacher and his
pupils. Text books seem to have become an article of commerce. Authors
and publishers who make writing and publishing a means of making money
are interested in frequent change of text books. In many cases
teachers and examiners are themselves authors of text books. It is
naturally to their interest to have their books sold. The selection
board is again naturally composed of such people. And so the vicious
circle becomes complete. And it becomes very difficult for parents to
find money for new books every year. It is a pathetic sight to see
boys and girls going to school loaded with books which they are ill
able to carry. The whole system requires to be thoroughly
examined. The commercial spirit needs to be entirely eliminated and
the question approached in the interest of the scholars. It will then
probably be found that 75 per cent of the text books will have to be
consigned to scrap-heap. If I had it my way, I would have books
largely as aids to teachers rather than for the scholars. Such
textbooks as are found to be absolutely necessary for the scholars
should circulate among them for a number of years os that the cost can
be easily borne by middle class families. The first step in this
direction is perhaps for the State to won and organize the printing
and publishing of text books. This will act as an automatic check on
their unnecessary multiplication.

Posted in books, education, gandhi | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

## Citation inside a Caption – LaTeX

Recently while writing my thesis, I came across a strange error while compiling with LaTeX. The problem arose when I gave a cite command inside a caption environment. The caption was for a figure. For example

\caption{This is the caption for a figure. From  \cite{friend2005}}

This gave the following error:

 ! Argument of \Hy@tempa has an extra }. <inserted text> \par l.89 ...sity estimate. From  \cite{friend2005}}

?
Runaway argument?
\@captype {\@firstoftwo {\@ifstar {\HAR@acite }{\HAR@fcite }}}\def \reserved@b
\ETC.
! Paragraph ended before \Hy@tempa was complete.
<to be read again>
\par
l.89 …sity estimate. From  \cite{friend2005}}

?

A little googling around I found this site which solved the problem in a second.

So the command should read like:

 \caption{This is the caption for a figure. From  \protect\cite{friend2005}} 

And the problem is solved. In case you are wondering what \protect does look here.

Posted in latex | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

## Anonymity and community in the age of RTI

(Draft under work.)

The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it
saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this
act any person could request data from government departments
pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step
towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The
RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the
required information officially. What was important also was that
there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to
the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries
which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about
their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was
a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various
government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities
and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to
corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big
names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some
examples?)

Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI
activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists
exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make
the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many
cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at
anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists
were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/,
/daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI
activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists
were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give
examples)

What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by
this I mean they lack support from people with similar
interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who
will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done
for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection?
There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will
provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is
there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask
for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that
they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in
which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among
the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in
which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same
time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is
such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues.

The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would
call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI
from various government departments. The activists can send their
queries to the government departments through this collective. This
collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the
respective government departments, and associated problematic
elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this
collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists,
as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier
case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal
their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for
anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might
be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros
will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data
regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able
to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused,
but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI
requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their
work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much
more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it
would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system.

So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective,
apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that
all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put
up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of
information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will
address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or
making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material
available for researchers.

Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the
collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and
possible way of execution of this collective are needed.