Friday, October 26, 2007

The simplest turing machine award

From Stephen Wolfram's Blog: I am thrilled to be able to announce that after only five months the prize is won...

Alex Smith--a 20-year-old undergraduate from Birmingham, UK--has produced a 40-page proof.

Just two states and three colors. And able to do any computation that can be done.

...And from searching the 2,985,984 possible 2,3 machines, I found a candidate. Which as of today we know actually is universal.

From our everyday experience with computers, this seems pretty surprising. After all, we're used to computers whose CPUs have been carefully engineered, with millions of gates....(but) That in the computational universe, phenomena like universality are actually quite common--even among systems with very simple rules.

From all my investigation of the computational universe, I came up with the very general principle that I call the Principle of Computational Equivalence.... What it says is essentially this: that when one sees behavior that isn't obviously simple, it'll essentially always correspond to a computation that's in a sense maximally sophisticated

(via KurzweilAI)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Doing homework may not be useful

... as a learning mechanism, that is.

From: The Truth About Homework:

I discovered that decades of investigation have failed to turn up any evidence that homework is beneficial for students in elementary school. ...The only effect that does show up is more negative attitudes on the part of students who get more assignments.

In fact, more hours are least likely to produce better outcomes when understanding or creativity is involved. Anderson and his associates found that when children are taught to read by focusing on the meaning of the text (rather than primarily on phonetic skills), their learning does “not depend on amount of instructional time.” In math, too, as another group of researchers discovered, time on task is directly correlated to achievement only if both the activity and the outcome measure are focused on rote recall as opposed to problem solving.

Lots of practice can help some students get better at remembering an answer, but not to get better at – or even accustomed to -- thinking. And even when they do acquire an academic skill through practice, the way they acquire it should give us pause. As psychologist Ellen Langer has shown, “When we drill ourselves in a certain skill so that it becomes second nature,” we may come to perform that skill “mindlessly,” locking us into patterns and procedures that are less than ideal.

(via Anand)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

India gaining ground in tech-media-telecom

It is interesting to see Morgan Stanley's presentation at the recently concluded Web 2.0 summit: Technology/Internet Trends:
  • India has moved up from 6th (2004) to the 5th place (2006) in the TMT (technology, media, telecom) rankings. Its now only behind USA, China, Japan and Germany. This seems inline with their earlier forecasts where they had estimated India to finally occupy the third place (behind China and the US) in the rankings by 2010.

  • The fastest Internet growth seems to be in non-US markets with Asia leading the charge

Some noteable viewpoints from their earlier research presentations:
- "We believe investors underappreciate the capacity of value-added mobile computing services to improve customer satisfaction and generate wealth"
- "Over the next 2-3 years, we expect the relationship between PCs and mobile devices will evolve into more of a clientserver environment. Users likely will spend more time on their home PCs using self-programmed products like My Yahoo! to customize the type of content that will be made available to their mobile devices."
- "Revenue streams for broadband and mobile Internet now differ, but will likely grow to resemble each other"
- "... in most TMT markets, a handful of companies dominate the market. ...We believe marketshare leaders in the largest markets often have the greatest revenue and earnings potential. ... those companies that we believe are best positioned in the leading market segments are often, but certainly not always, best-positioned in global markets. Economies of scale, alliances, learning curves, and the skills that come with and help create success in highly competitive markets are all factors that we think tend to apply outside of home markets."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Global imbalances and the global savings glut

Bernanke's speech on Global imbalances and the Global savings glut - an impressive essay on the state of global economics. Bundesbank lecture: a key driving force a large increase in net desired saving (that is, desired saving less desired domestic investment) in emerging-market and oil-producing economies, a change that transformed these countries from modest net demanders to substantial net suppliers of funds to international capital markets. This large increase in the net supply of financial capital from sources outside the industrial countries is what, in my earlier remarks, I called the global saving glut.

...although the U.S. current account deficit is certainly not sustainable at its current level, U.S. liabilities to foreigners are not, at this point, putting an exceptionally large burden on the American economy. The net international investment position (NIIP) of the United States, although at a substantial negative 19 percent of GDP, is still smaller than the negative NIIP of several other industrial economies. As a fraction of net household wealth, which totaled almost $56 trillion in 2006, the negative NIIP is even smaller--less than 5 percent.

Ultimately, the necessary reduction in the trade and current account deficits will entail shifting resources out of sectors producing nontraded goods and services to those producing tradables. The greater the needed adjustment, the more potentially disruptive and costly these shifts may be. Similarly, external adjustment for China and other surplus countries will involve shifting resources out of the export sector and into industries geared toward meeting domestic consumption needs; that necessary shift, too, will likely be less disruptive if it occurs earlier and thus less rapidly and on a smaller scale. the longer term, the developing world should be the recipient, not the provider, of financial capital. Because developing countries tend to have high ratios of labor to capital and to be away from the technological frontier, the potential returns to investment in those countries are high. Thus, capital flows toward those countries should benefit both them and the countries providing the capital.

(via J.R.Varma)

On banks being crude CDOs

Prof. J.R.Varma highlights how CDOs resemble banks in a crude sort of way. Quite an interesting discussion:

- Economist Buttonwood on CDOs
- Similarities and Differences between Banks and CDOs

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gunning it to Gan(r)Mukteshwar

It was another lazy, ennui-filled weekend, with the Sun shining bright on a morning that was displaying the chilly hues of the oncoming winter. The prospect of sighting the Ganges so close to Delhi was intriguing and the challenge of a long drive thereto, just seeming like a spot of good fun. And so we set out ...

GarMukteshwar is an area that lies 130 kms to the east of Delhi in the Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh, on the banks of the river Ganga. Its supposed to be the closest approach point to the river from Delhi and is a well known weekend getaway. The area sports a river ghat (called the Brijghat) and a multitude of temples dedicated to the dieties in the Hindu pantheon.

Lord Shiva, it seems, is the crowning diety - the name GanMukteshwar refering to this location as the place where his "Gan" (lieutenants, as my friend translated) received "Mukti" (salvation).

Brijghat has the look and feel of a mini-Varanasi, minus its crowd, dirt and fleecing pujaris. Since the location is upstream compared to Varanasi, the river is also much cleaner and faster. Its always a divine experience to do a boat ride on the Ganga, and the ability to do it so close to Delhi makes it all the more worthwhile. The river is shallow in most places and taking a dip is an easy proposition.

Apparently Gan(r)Mukteshwar has quite a history behind it. As gkamesh highlights:

This is a part of the Hastinapura region, the Kaurava capital of Mahabharata. Local lore has it that this is the place where Goddess Ganga met Shantanu, the great grandfather of Pandavas and Kauravas...

Famous among them is the Mukteshwar temple, after which the town is named, said to have been built by King Shivi, a benchmark among Kings, noble ancestor of Lord Rama. The Mukteshwar Siva Linga is said to have been worshipped by sage Parasurama. There is an even more ancient Mukteshwar temple, where Ravana is said to have offered worship.

All the temples are in a decrepit state now, but we noticed that renovation is in progress. The temple devoted to the Ganga has a hundred steps and is quite the climb. Interestingly, when one throws a stone down these steps, they give out a sound akin to that of a stone thrown into water. The local urchins have taken it upon themselves to show this effect to every traveller by lobbing a few down every minute or so - hence do not make the mistake of parking your vehicle near the steps.

To those who follow: GarMukteshwar is a 2-3 hour drive (depending on how fast you can leave delhi's traffic behind) along the Ghaziabad-Moradabad route. The roads are good (but for a small stretch) and the traffic on the weekend seems sparse. There are dhabbas along the route and hotels at periodic intervals. Is well worth a weekend day's visit (particularly in a weather with a bright sun and a wintery feel).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

India soaring - but so much left to do...

From Securing India’s place in the global economy - Adil Zainulbhai, McKinsey Quarterly:

Sustaining inclusive economic growth will require the country to focus on improving its infrastructure, both hard and soft, and on creating a thriving labor market.

To improve the infrastructure significantly on a nationwide scale, the government will also have to undertake systemic reforms. Immediate action is needed in a number of areas: land market barriers (unclear land titles and insufficient databases, for instance); inadequate long-term financial instruments to meet the equity and debt needs of large infrastructure projects; weak policies and regulations...

...state governments must repeal the Urban Land Ceiling Act (which restricts the amount of land available for housing), resolve unclear land titles by creating fast-track courts, computerize land records, raise property taxes, and change the tenancy laws.

...the government might create pilot focused-education zones, where educational institutes could be set up with complete autonomy in admissions, fees, course offerings, faculty recruitment, and delivery and evaluation methodologies.

McKinsey research suggests that during the next ten years India will need more than 10,000 public-health professionals to supply preventive health services. These experts will also be needed to train 500,000 volunteers... almost limitless labor supply and consumer demand. Yet this mass of people could become one of the greatest forces against reform if they can’t find jobs; in 2003, for instance, the labor force grew by 12 million, but employment in the organized private sector fell by 200,000. India absolutely must create a thriving labor market not only to shift workers from agriculture to higher-value-added activities but also to absorb a growing workforce and sustain social equilibrium.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Chevron's Energyville

Its often difficult to wade through the mass of energy literature, for a newcomer to the field. With oil levels at peak highs, everyone actively talking about non-conventional resources, the nuclear power dilemma, the global warming worries, carbon trading .... there's just so much verbiage out there, its simply daunting.

Chevron's Energyville is a nice and simple introduction to the tradeoffs from different energy sources. By asking you to manage a city's energy requirements and its resources traded against its environmental and social impact, the game forces you to think through choices policy makers grapple with. I also found the resultant comparison against other participants a pretty cool way of shaping thought.

Being 'born global'

From "What Makes a Global Leader?":

...They are driven by technology that requires them to expand in many countries at once. They need scale economies; they need first-mover advantages. The Apple iPod is an example. Any place that has computers understands the iPod immediately." Companies that are born global, he adds, "tend to have high-tech products that immediately find acceptance in many different cultures and societies. The differences in selling across countries is not as important as they might be if you are selling toothpaste or packaged food or clothes."

And what is the key trait that defines such a global mindset? According to Black, it's inquisitiveness. "When in a new country, high-potential global leaders seek out new experiences. They want to try the local food, not the internationalized cuisine at some five-star hotel. They pick up the local newspaper; they talk to local residents."

...Shell rotates high-potential managers through positions in various aspects of the enterprise, including overseas postings, so that "by time they hit 40 and want to enter senior management, they have in their mind's eye what it looks like to be in an oil field in Nigeria when the call comes that there's been an explosion and the local mayor wants to shut the operation down," says Useem.

Useem recalled sitting down several weeks ago with Indian executives and asking how they rated Indian leadership talent compared to U.S. and European talent. "The essence of their answer was that it is good, but they primarily have people who have worked only domestically, in India. By contrast, they saw that in European firms, nearly everybody in middle to senior management had worked outside of their home countries,"