Linkage

Like many, I was shocked to hear of Prashant Bhargava’s death. I just saw Radhe Radhe with Vijay Iyer’s live score at BAM, and Bhargava was there. I met him once, through Mimosa Shah.

Most people know Yoko Ono as “the person who broke up the Beatles” and think of her art practice as a joke. She’s a much more serious artist than that, and this article tries to lay it out a bit better.

Via Celeste LeCompte, a tool to explore MIT’s research finances. It’s still a work-in-progress. I wonder how hard it would be to make such a thing for Rutgers.

In lieu of taking this course offered by Amardeep Singh, I could at least read the books on the syllabus I guess.

Muscae volitantes, or floaty things in your eyes.

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Readings

The Education of a British-Protected Child (Chinua Achebe) – A collection of essays over the years by noted Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. On the one hand, one might say he has a number of central issues he raises over and over again, but on the other, it might be said that he repeats himself. This is not surprising — these essays were written in different contexts and for different purposes (op-eds, speeches, and so on) and represent a set of concerns Achebe has about the relationship between himself and Nigeria, the Biafran conflict, Joseph Conrad, and the effects of colonialism. One of the more interesting pieces is a strong disagreement with Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s decision to write only in Gikuyu — Achebe views denying the use of English as a kind of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “LALALALALALA.” Reading the collection, one is reminded that the easy distinctions we make here between revolutionary and conservative are just insufficient for understanding how one negotiates the legacy of colonialism. Worth a read!

The Taming of Chance (Ian Hacking) – A fantastic book and a must-read for those who care or are interested in the history of probability and statistical thought. A major point in the book is that as printing got cheaper and people were able to measure things, there was an explosion of publication of tables of counts — like how many loaves of bread were sold each week in a city, or the heights of soldiers, or… basically anything. People would survey and measure and publish all sorts of data. To make sense of this data deluge, people developed new ways of seeing populations in terms of aggregates. Individuals began to conceive of themselves in relation to the population. Notions of “statistical law” and “deviance” were a result of this process. It’s really fascinating stuff.

Tigana (Guy Gavriel Kay) — This book was extremely long and epic and I think would appeal to more literary minded Game of Thrones fans, but I found it too… consciously “aching” as it were. It’s a novel about loss and memory, and while that’s a rich field to plow, the book to me got a bit over-trodden (and overwritten).

Tomatoland (Barry Estabrook) — A rather depressing (but ultimately hopeful?) look at the tomato industry in Florida. Florida is not a great place to grow tomatoes, but it’s warm enough in the winter to supply mealy flavorless red baseballs to industrial kitchens further north. Estabrook spends a lot of time with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group that tries to get better conditions for agricultural workers. You know, things like not being enslaved, or being paid by the hour instead of by the bucket, or not being sprayed with pesticides because growers don’t want to spend the time to clear the field of workers. Little things like that. It’s harrowing but worth reading.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years (David Graeber) — Graeber gives an engaging and far-ranging discussion of the notion of debt and credit. He’s trained as an anthropologist and has an axe to grind against economics. I found it to be an important book to read for anyone who cares about how we got to the society we have now. Some major theses : human relations are structured around communism (sharing), exchange, and hierarchy, and the interplay of these is complex and drives notions of debt. Credit systems have been around for a long time and in many cases predate “money” as we think of it. Current credit systems are backed by the coercive power of the state. People take issue with how starkly he puts the last point, but I think that as an anthropologist, Graeber has a much better vantage from which to look at and critique where we are now. It seems daunting, but he’s a clear expositor.

Linkage

I’m heading off to Mexico in less than 12 hours for a week during which I hope to disconnect : no email, web, or phone. I guess I’ll miss the majority of the post-Bin Laden news cycle. In the meantime, here are some more links because I am too lazy to post content.

Speaking of 9/11, this is simply terrible.

An interview with George Saunders, one of my favorite authors.

Blackwell’s proof of Wald’s Identity, as told by Max.

Long pepper looks fascinating and tasty!

Can Voter ID Laws Be Administered in a Race-Neutral Manner? The short answer is no. The longer answer is a 30 page paper.

Frank has blogger about our trip last weekend to The 2nd 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational. My arteries may never be the same again.

There are no more typewriter factories. This makes me especially sad, as I have a 1914 Underwood No. 5 that I love (and lug).

Readings

Felix Gilman, The Half-Made World – A rather stunning and harrowing fantasy/western (don’t think Jonah Hex). I didn’t like it quite as much as Cosma did, but I couldn’t put it down, so that is something.

Jane Margolis, Stuck in the Shallow End : Education, Race, and Computing – really insightful look at the race-based gap in access and enrollment in computer science classes in 3 very different LA high schools. Margolis and her discuss how the actions of teachers, counselors, and administrators create barriers and disincentives that lower black and Latino enrollment in computer sciences when they are available, and that gut computer science classes for everyone in favor of computer skills classes.

John Crowley, Love & Sleep – second book in the Aegypt cycle. I found it more self-indulgent and flatter than the first one, but maybe it’s because the characters are not new to me. The writing is, as always, beautiful, but I was less excited than I was by The Solitudes.

Ian Hacking, The Emergence of Probability – a slim book about early ideas about probability and ending at Bernoulli and Hume’s problem of induction. Hacking traces how “probable” went from meaning “approved of by experts” (as in “probable cause”) to a more aleatoric interpretation, and at the same time how problems such as computing annuities brought forth new foundational questions for philosophers and mathematicians. A key figure in this development was Leibnitz, who worked on developing inductive theories of logic. The last few pages sum it up well — the early development was spurred by changes in how people thought of opinion and on what it should be based. “Probability-and-induction” required a different change in perspective; causation had to be thought of as a problem of opinion rather than of knowledge. I found the book fascinating and pretty easy to read; nice short chapters highlighting one point after the other. Hat tip to Marisa Brandt for the recommendation.

Linkage

I’m blogging from Chicago, where it is a balmy 42 degrees but sunny. Whither spring, I ask! Actually, I’m not blogging so much as linking to a bunch of stuff.

For San Diegans, the SD Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase is going on. It looks like I’ll miss a lot of it but I might try to catch something at the end of the week.

Less Pretentious & More Accurate Titles For Literary Masterworks — funny but possibly NSFW.

This home-scanning program seems creepy, regardless of the constitutionality issues.

Unfortunate headlines strike again.

I really like scallion pancakes. I’ll have to try this out when I get back to San Diego.

I agree that this video is awesome. Yo-Yo Ma and Lil Buck. I think that dude is made of rubber. And steel.

Tom Waits was induced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I just hope I get to see him live some day.

Some things to skim or read from ArXiV when I get the chance:
Sequential Analysis in High Dimensional Multiple Testing and Sparse Recovery (Matt Malloy, Robert Nowak)
Differential Privacy: on the trade-off between Utility and Information Leakage (Mário S. Alvim, Miguel E. Andrés, Konstantinos Chatzikokolakis, Pierpaolo Degano, Catuscia Palamidessi)
Capacity of Byzantine Consensus with Capacity-Limited Point-to-Point Links (Guanfeng Liang, Nitin Vaidya)
Settling the feasibility of interference alignment for the MIMO interference channel: the symmetric square case (Guy Bresler, Dustin Cartwright, David Tse)
Decentralized Online Learning Algorithms for Opportunistic Spectrum Access (Yi Gai, Bhaskar Krishnamachari)
Online and Batch Learning Algorithms for Data with Missing Features (Afshin Rostamizadeh, Alekh Agarwal, Peter Bartlett)
Nonuniform Coverage Control on the Line (Naomi Ehrich Leonard, Alex Olshevsky)
Degree Fluctuations and the Convergence Time of Consensus Algorithms (Alex Olshevsky, John Tsitsiklis)