Wednesday, March 29, 2017

why human males are bigger than females ?

Human males are bigger than females because.... by Ryan Gregory. The answer seems to be we do not really know. "In humans, males tend on average to be larger, to mature later, and to age and die sooner than females. It’s easy to assume, as many people do, that this difference between males and females — what biologists call sexual dimorphism — is the result of sexual selection. That is, males are larger because they fight each other over access to females and/or females prefer to mate with larger males. That is a valid hypothesis, of course — but too often it is simply accepted as fact and then used as a starting point for discussing other male and female traits. As a recent example, consider the debate that is happening on the blogosphere about sexual dimorphism in humans, and whether objections to the standard explanation of fightin’ males is merely political." For the terms used check and another view of the Clyne-Dunsworth debate see also How do we know what we know? Sexual selection, in humans and in lizards by Ambika Klamath. P.Z.Myers also discusses Clyne-Dunsworth debate and also the article of Ryan Gregory above in Natural selection is not the only mechanism of evolution.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Take a bow Steve smith

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same"
Small victories all around, but still the Indians prevail by Greg Baum
"The sum of all these victories, great and small, was a series for the ages, a titanic contest, maybe the most gripping Australia have played in since England 2005 (also a 2-1 defeat), and not even a little passing pettiness could diminish it.
Australia surpassed themselves, India surpassed Australia. Here's a look through one dimension: Smith made 499 runs and Cheteshwar Pujara made 405 runs, and KL Rahul made 50 in every innings bar one, and R Ashwin took 21 wickets, and Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe 19 each, and none of them were man of the series because Ravindra Jadeja took 25 wickets and made vital half-centuries at two telling passes, and so he was, and who could argue?"

More equitable economy

A more equitable economy exists right next door "Welcome to everyday life in Quebec, Canada’s second largest province with 8.2 million people. Yet these scenes of economic activity are different in a notable way from similar ones occurring throughout North America. Each enterprise involves a cooperative or non-profit organization, which together make up 8-10 percent of the province’s GDP.  More than 7,000 of these “social economy” enterprises ring up $17 billion in annual sales and hold $40 billion in assets (Canadian dollars). They account for about 215,000 jobs across Quebec."

Waste business

A prism to view poverty

Monday, March 27, 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Discussions on education

Lots of discussions about education from first principles these days like this one from my friend the admirable Rahul Banerjee Exorcising the maths demon and also on his wall.
About university education, Owen Dixon, a justice in the Australian Supreme Court reminded in 1954 that a university's responsibility remained unchanged: to produce people whose " minds have become better instruments of thought, whose intellectual interests have been stimulated and will often be sustained, and above all who can combine knowledge with reason and both with experience so as to meet the problems of real life."
To some extent, the purposes of school education are similar with the proviso that vocational education also takes place for those who do not want to or cannot go to universities. We do not know what will be needed in future and generally try to ground the students in an all round education which not only teaches facts but also develops habits of thought. For example, we may never use the Euclidean geometry which we learn around ninth grade, but ideas of proof, logical arguments are imbibed at an age where we do not really understand the purpose of such things. It is also difficult to understand every thing that may be need in future but at a young age people absorb like sponges and remember things some of which become clearer later on if one pursues. In my opinion, very few understand calculus in their first attempts, but can acquire some feel and can use it mechanically after a while. And most things we use these days involve calculus, linear algebra and such at various stages. So, one purpose to get these through as much as possible st a young age even if only a fraction use them later on and for most the overall curriculum develops some useful knowledge and habits of thought.  These requirements get larger with time and an average high school graduate now probably knows more than an average teacher a couple of centuries ago. These are achieved through processes of synthesis and pruning. That is for the good part. There are also dubious aims like control, hold children in prison like conditions when their hormones or raging, get them to confirm and become useful tools in the enterprises that the current powers deem necessary. As Foucault wryly asks: ‘Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?’ If Foucault is right, we are subject to the power of correct training whenever we are tied to our school desks, our positions on the assembly line or, perhaps most of all in our time, our meticulously curated cubicles and open-plan offices so popular as working spaces today.'

Generally, there is a disjunct between what we use and what we understand about what we use. All this does not mean laymen like us should not discuss education. Like many other things, there are big chains in every thing and those who try to explain or question existing state of things should study a bit more about these chains and try to explain the consequences of cutting calculus or some other subject from the syllabus and its implications to different groups. Governments are keen about quick successes and appoint various panels to suggest changes and in India often the tendency is to catch up with western success and copy some of their recommendations which may sometimes be influenced by vested interests. For example, this happened with the BT Brinjal recommendations by a government panel. I have some experience with panels as I was once part of a panel to recommend undergraduate syllabus for the whole of India. Since my experience at that time was in reasearch and not teaching, I quietly slipped away from the task. In any case, these syllabi depend on what the governments decide to do at a given time, not arbitrarily but with in some parameters,  and formulated by experts in another chain of expertise parts of which may be dubious. As in the BTBrinjal case ( where the first expert report was a copy of a US government report that was favourable to big business), constance vigilance by NGOs and noise may help to reduce the unsuitability. So I welcome Rahul Banerjee's discussion but on his wall, at the moment it seems to be all over the place. So, my suggestion would be to ask for outside representation in these panels, namely from users interested in teaching and perhaps with some experience in teaching. There are several such NGOs in India.

A readable article on Foucault

Simon Critchley went to talk to his philosophy teacher Frank Cioffi:"Some years later, I went back into his office to ask permission to switch from one course to another. “Which courses?” he said indifferently. “I’m meant to be reading Foucault, but I want to do a course on Derrida.” “Man” he replied “that’s like going from horseshit to bullshit.” "
But there seems to be some thing in the horseshit as this article observes The power thinker
Some quotes:
Foucault wryly asks: ‘Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?’ If Foucault is right, we are subject to the power of correct training whenever we are tied to our school desks, our positions on the assembly line or, perhaps most of all in our time, our meticulously curated cubicles and open-plan offices so popular as working spaces today.
For identifying and so deftly analysing the mechanisms of modern power, while refusing to develop it into a singular and unified theory of power’s essence, Foucault remains philosophically important. The strident philosophical skepticism in which his thought is rooted is not directed against the use of philosophy for the analysis of power. Rather, it is suspicious of the bravado behind the idea that philosophy can, and also must, reveal the hidden essence of things. What this means is that Foucault’s signature word – ‘power’ – is not the name of an essence that he has distilled but is rather an index to an entire field of analysis in which the work of philosophy must continually toil.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mathematics a reality check?

Strangely, doing mathematics seems to be a bit of reality check for me. I still do mathematics off and on and am now trying a slightly different method than before. Last year, revising an unpublished paper, I thought that I saw some thing new that was mildly interesting. Off and on, I worked on it for six months and finally convinced myself after a few drafts. Then I went on a trip came back, it was difficult to get back to mathematics and easier to read other stuff. Finally after four months I slowly started looking at it again and could not understand much. After a few weeks, various steps involved emerged and I could see the general trend though not the details. Before when I was working it was generally rather intense and I used to loose appetite and often sleep until I was exhausted. This time, I started just meditating slowly about each step between doing other things at home and not continuously, even though the particular theme seemed to be in front of my mind most of the time. So, I would let it soak slowly until it seemed more and more clearer and so on with other steps. Then about how to put them together since there seemed different ways of doing it. At the moment much of it is becoming clearer without putting the pen on paper, and I am not loosing sleep. It remains to be seen what happens when I tried to write it down. And whether there is a lesson from this about learning and thinking about other topics.

'Foragers, farmers and fossil fulels' by Ian Morris

A short review by Robin Hanson.
A comprehensive 19 page review by Alberto Bisin

The book is a large-scale history of the world through the different modes of production humanity has adopted over time and their implications in terms of moral values. Morris argues that the predominant value systems of human societies are cultural adaptations to the organizational structures of the societies themselves, their institutions, and ultimately to their modes of production. In particular, the book contains a careful analysis of how the hunting-gathering mode of production induces egalitarian values and relatively favorable attitudes towards violent resolution of conflicts, while farming induces hierarchical values and less favorable attitudes towards violence, and in turn the fossil fuel (that is, industrial) mode of production induces egalitarian values and non-violent attitudes. 

The narrative in the book is rich, diverse, and ultimately entertaining. Morris’ analysis is very knowledgeable and informative: arguments and evidence are rooted in history, anthro- pology, archeology, and social sciences in general. Notheless, the analysis falls short of being convincing about the causal nature of the existing relationship between modes of production and moral value systems. 

From Madhukar Shukla's 'Lives and Lvelihoods'

News from Melbourne University

A fascinating story about tractors

Yes Meyer Wins Abel Prize 2017

From The Guardian and CNRS
Terry Tao comments "I had learned about Meyer’s wavelet constructions as a graduate student while taking a course from Ingrid Daubechies.   Daubechies also made extremely important contributions to the theory of wavelets, but my understanding is that due to a conflict of interest arising from Daubechies’ presidency of the International Mathematical Union (which nominates members of the Abel prize committee) from 2011 to 2014, she was not eligible for the prize this year, and so I do not think this prize should be necessarily construed as a judgement on the relative contributions of Meyer and Daubechies to this field.  (In any case I fully agree with the Abel prize committee’s citation of Meyer’s pivotal role in the development of the theory of wavelets.)"

About migrants

Much of what we know about migration is wrong from Der Spiegel
But there is also news like this "Over the last decade, an estimated $3.8 trillion in capital has left China. Net foreign direct investment over the same period of time has amounted to $1.3 trillion, leaving the country with a net loss."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rahul Banerjee finds himself on the dais with a District collector

Saeed Khan, was an anarchist to the core and despite being part of an organisation he was always in confrontation with it. He was a journalist of the Hindustan Times, Indore edition, which has now wound up and he believed in staying close to the ground. So much so that he did not own any motorised vehicle and moved around on foot and public transport even though he had an Iphone in his pocket which he used to surf the world at a drop of the hat. I was invited to speak a few words about him in today's commemoration and that is how I landed up on the dais. The commemoration event had been well advertised on FB and Twitter and reading this, the District Collector of Indore too came uninvited and was called up to the dais and that is how we were together there.
The Collector said that in his earlier stint as the Municipal Commissioner in Indore, he had been accosted on many occasions by Saeed who was then diligently pursuing all the misplanning and malimplementation that was manifesting itself in the development of Indore city. He said, that in Saeed, for the first time he met a journalist who did deep research on his stories and would fearlessly flay administrative inefficiency. He also said that normally he is continually invited to chair or take part in various public meetings by organisations and had to refuse them most of the time but this is the first time in his thirteen year career as an administrator that he was attending a meeting like this uninvited simply because he couldn't get over the fact that Saeed was not there anymore and he wanted to share his respect for him.
From a write up by Rahul Banerjee on Saeed Khan

Some articles on quantification

The invention of 'The Economy'', dates it roughly to the mid twentieth century. But the trend for quantification started much earlier in the west, even before the sixteenth century as this article on Quantification suggests. And The risks of quantification.

Michael Hudson

a comprehensive introduction to Michael Hudson's thoughts on the economy As usual I find Michael Hudson very interesting.

Tim Hartford on the problem with facts

The problem with facts, slightly longish but well worth a couple of reads, I think.
P.S.  My tentative view. We are in some ways prediction machines for our survival; that is we store information and try to predict to find our way around. The problem is our limited capacity to store quickly recallable information. This is where we have developed short cuts often based an emotions like disgust. The problem is accentuated even for experts with the modern information overload. Atul Gawande describes one such instance in Cowboys and pit crews. Of course there are attempts to see patterns using big databases and so on but these are not amenable to the common man. So we need chains of dissemination to reach the common man to make reasonable judgements. But these chain are also manned by people with similar biases and self interests. So perhaps what we need are people for whom the interests of other people are more important than their own, perhaps people like Asron Swartz or deliberate attempts to cultivate such attitudes.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry RIP

Pete Maravich
In India, I find that biographical writing from admirers tend to make characters like Ambedkar to Gandhi to Ghantasala either godlike figures or from full of polemics from critics. Here is one of a player I admired, warts and all. More about Pistol Pete at several places including a few books like this Mark Kriegel