Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Rolls Royce of Chalk - Part Deux

Gizmodo has a cute story -- Why Mathematicians Are Hoarding This Special Type of Japanese Chalk. Apparently, the firm that made these chalks is no more.

I posted a link to a post at the Williams College blog on the legend of Hagomoro chalks (this post is also fondly quoted in the Gizmodo story):

3. So what is the best chalk out there?

I have wrestled with this question and spent a bit of time pursing this over my sabbatical last year. There have been rumors about a dream chalk, a chalk so powerful that mathematics practically writes itself; a chalk so amazing that no incorrect proof can be written using this chalk. I can finally say, after months of pursuit, that such a chalk indeed exists. It is called the Hagoromo Fulltouch Chalk.

For those lucky few who have used it, it can truly be called the Michael Jordan of chalk, the Rolls Royce of chalk. [Bold emphasis added]

Visa Venkateswara: Part Deux

BBC has a pictorial story on temples whose gods specialize in visas. Chilkur Balaji temple is one of the two shrines covered there; the other is a gurdwara in the Punjab village of Talhan.

The essay features a priceless picture of toy airplanes offered by the devotees at Talhan; this alone is worth a click on that link!

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'Part Deux' is because this is the second time that this phenomenon appears in this blog. The first time was 9 years ago!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ricardo Hausmann on The Education Myth

His Project Syndicate column argues that education is not what we should look to for economic growth.

... [T]hough the typical country with ten years of schooling had a per capita income of $30,000 in 2010, per capita income in Albania, Armenia, and Sri Lanka, which have achieved that level of schooling, was less than $5,000. Whatever is preventing these countries from becoming richer, it is not lack of education.

A country’s income is the sum of the output produced by each worker. To increase income, we need to increase worker productivity. Evidently, “something in the water,” other than education, makes people much more productive in some places than in others. A successful growth strategy needs to figure out what this is.

Make no mistake: education presumably does raise productivity. But to say that education is your growth strategy means that you are giving up on everyone who has already gone through the school system – most people over 18, and almost all over 25. It is a strategy that ignores the potential that is in 100% of today’s labor force, 98% of next year’s, and a huge number of people who will be around for the next half-century. An education-only strategy is bound to make all of them regret having been born too soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fired: ISI Director Bimal Roy

Update: I'm adding more information and links at the end. See also the comments.

* * *

The firing of Prof. Bimal Roy from the post of the Director of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, seems unusual because (a) a new Director is to take charge in less than two months (b) the said new-Director has also been identified, and (c) Bimal Roy is among the recipients of the 2015 Padma Awards. To top it all, the official order says the man is being fired "to prevent indiscipline and mischief, and to prevent the eventualities of administrative malfeasance."

Here's an excerpt from the order from MoSPI, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation:

... A number of general and specific matters of financial and administrative irregularities which show the direct or supervisory responsibilities for acts of omission and commission on the part of present Director, Prof. B.B. Roy, are available in the Ministry in the various files on the different subjects.

There is justified and reasonable apprehension that the present Director, Prof Bimal Roy may indulge in propagation of indiscipline and mischief, including acts of administrative and financial impropriety in the interregnum up to 31st July, 2015 (before the new Director, Prof S Bandyopadhyay takes charge on 1st August 2015)

After this news became public, the Chair of ISI Council, Dr. Arun Shourie, has defended the order from MoSPI, saying that the Government had no option.

Given the unusual combination of a blunt verdict and vague allegations about possible future crimes, it is surprising that no news organization has chosen to dig deeper. The silence of The Telegraph, in whose backyard all this stuff is happening, is not just surprising, but also deeply puzzling!

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Update 1 (20 June 2015):

  1. The Wire has a story (thanks to commenter Pulsereed) with some additional details culled from a petition seeking Justice for ISI, and from this Reddit thread.

  2. Outlook also has a story with original reporting by Dola Mitra: Portal Of Unease ("The ISI director is ruthlessly sacked as curtains are drawn shut in secrecy").

    Thanks to a comment (by "counterfeiter", an ISI alum), we now know of this Facebook page ("Justice for ISI") which features messages of support for Prof. Roy, and messages of protest against the Ministry; it also features video messages from ISI alums who are now academics in the US.

  3. The petition (which I have signed) gives some background information, and concludes with the following demands:

    1. Proper independent public investigation must be done regarding the Ministry's allegations against Prof. Roy, the charges against Prof. Roy must be presented to the council, and a proper hearing must be conducted by the Council, before deciding upon the next course of action.

    2. The audio recording of the Director selection meeting along with its transcript should be released immediately and investigated by independent authority.

    3. Till these investigations are over and the Council decides otherwise, citing valid proof, Prof Bimal Kumar Roy should be immediately reinstated at the position of interim Director.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sir Tim Hunt: Part Deux

  1. "... [Yes], I made those remarks – which were inexcusable – but I made them in a totally jocular, ironic way. There was some polite applause and that was it, I thought. I thought everything was OK. No one accused me of being a sexist pig.”
    -- Sir Tim Hunt

  2. That assertion -- "I made them in a totally jocular, ironic way" -- is strongly disputed by Deborah Blum, who was there and who quized him about what he meant. [Update: She elaborates on those tweets in an essay at The Daily Beast.]

  3. Michael Eisen offers a different perspective on Hunt's self destruction, and it involves a previous event in Kashmir: Sympathy for the Devil?

  4. Geoffrey Pullum in CHE: 36 Words.

  5. #DistractinglySexy -- storified!

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Update (2 July 2015): Connie St Louis in The Guardian: Stop defending Tim Hunt.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


  1. Barbara Oakley in Nautilus: How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math. "Sorry, education reformers, it’s still memorization and repetition we need."

  2. William Kremer in BBC: The strange afterlife of Einstein's brain. A truly bizarre story.

  3. Steven Shapin in WSJ: Why Scientists Shouldn’t Write History. A review of Steven Weinberg's book To Explain the World. The following excerpt gets to the main problem with an enterprise like Weinberg's:

  4. There’s a story told about a distinguished cardiac surgeon who, about to retire, decided he’d like to take up the history of medicine. He sought out a historian friend and asked her if she had any tips for him. The historian said she’d be happy to help but first asked the surgeon a reciprocal favor: “As it happens, I’m about to retire too, and I’m thinking of taking up heart surgery. Do you have any tips for me?”

    The story is probably apocryphal, but it displays a real asymmetry between two expert practices. The surgeon knows that his skills are specialized and that they’re difficult to acquire, but he doesn’t think that the historian’s skills are anything like that. He assumes that writing history is pretty straightforward and that being a 21st-century surgeon gives you a leg up in documenting and interpreting, for example, theories of fever in the 17th century. Yet not every kind of technical expertise stands in this relation with the telling of its history. Modern installation artists don’t think they can produce adequate scholarly studies of Dutch Golden Age paintings, and it’s hard to find offensive linemen parading their competence in the writing the history of rugby.


  1. Carnegie Mellon Reels After Uber Lures Away Researchers (Mike Ramsey and Douglas Macmillan in WSJ)

  2. Deepak Singh in The Atlantic: 'I've Never Thanked My Parents for Anything'. "In America, saying thank you is routine. In India, it can be insulting."

  3. Chris Woolston in Nature: Fruit-fly paper has 1,000 authors "Genomics paper with an unusually high number of authors sets researchers buzzing on social media." See also a related story from physics.

  4. The Economist: Keeping it on the company campus. "As more firms have set up their own “corporate universities”, they have become less willing to pay for their managers to go to business school."

  5. A picture gallery on 150 years of mathematics in the UK in The Guardian

Sir Tim Hunt

A high-caliber scientist has some unscientific notions about women scientists. Who knew?

A couple of links on the Nobel laureate's thoughts "his trouble with girls".

  1. Marion Walker in Nobel laureates must set an example to their field, not bring shame."Sir Tim Hunt's resignation as honorary professor at University College London must not be the end of the debate over gender in science."

  2. #Distractinglysexy Twitter campaign mocks Tim Hunt's sexist comments