Monday, October 29, 2007

Information Entropy

[This post is dedicated in its entirety to Raghu, for his status message roused the entire institute from its collective torpor and alerted it to the unspeakable dangers long, happy weekends.]

If you can prove to me that these two statements convey fundamentally different information, I'll give you $1 million.

Statement A:
You see the whole country of the system is juxtaposed in the haemoglobin of the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity!

Statement B:

Organizational communication as an evolutionary, culturally dependent process of sharing information and creating relationships in environments designed for manageable, goal oriented behaviour sustains and enlivens organizations.

The first line is from that most delightful song in Amar, Akbar, Anthony , My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves. [In my humble opinion, in the history of all possible experimentations with the human gait, there has been no dance-step more graceful than Amitabh cantering out of the Easter egg. Please, for the love of humanity, see the whole song! ]

The second is taken straight from a Business Ethics presentation I'm mugging as part of a regrettable exercise in squandering the proletarian taxpayer's hard-earned money, more popularly known as Professional Ethics 101.

Update: Why, the nerve! Some anti-social elements of ill-repute have dared to question the authenticity of my honorable challenge! Gentle reader, let me take this opportunity to reassure you that I am ever hard at work to ensure that my esteemed audience always receives unmatchable value-added services. I am confident that my insatiable thirst for knowledge, unwavering dedication, superior competence and commitment will help me leave an indelible mark on my field of resea- hey wait, scratch that line, wrong SoP [utters assorted curses at Stanford's Dec 4 deadline]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fly, thought, on wings of gold

In a post in some blog (whose name I do not care to recall) [1] I found one of those gentlemen who directs the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering, manages a $250 million hedge fund, teaches 6 odd courses and has an amazing sense of humor to boot. Don't believe me? Read his hilarious article on How to tell if you might be a quant. ( Small PDF )

Here's some general background on what it is like to be in world's best p(l)aying field :-)


Ladies and Gentlemen, Crowdsourcing has just left the oh-that's-a-cute-little-word building and is raking in the big bucks. It's just what the name suggests: you outsource your work to a crowd ! This is now more than a year old, but I tell you, I have never seen a more devious design for mass public enslavement and hard manual labor extraction than Google's Image Labeler. From the site:

Welcome to Google Image Labeler, a feature of Google Search that allows you to label images and help improve the quality of Google's image search results. (Emphasis mine)

And I must admit, the darn thing is actually addictive ! Over the last year, it's been a huge success, and people are starting to take crowdsourcing quite seriously.

The second most amazing crowdsourced site I've seen ( the first is Wikipedia, of course :) ) is ( Harsha found it in some obscure corner of Crunchbase. Verily, the man has superior lit search genes ! (Irrelevant note: Facebook is now officially cooler than Orkut, and Microsoft has officially gone mad. Which other soc-net portal do you know that was valued at $1 billion in September 2006, $6 billion in July 2007, $10 billion in September 2007, and is currently at 15 billion? (Something tells me I'm going to love Lisp when I get the time to learn it ) [2])) WikInvest smacks Google Finance and Yahoo! Finance right in the face when it comes to detailed analysis, stock charts and predictions. Have a look!

I also came across this extremely well written article on Evolution and the Wisdom of Crowds. It analyzes three very successful instances of when crowdsourcing has worked wonders: Wikipedia, Prediction markets and Recommendation systems. The part on prediction markets is especially well written, you should definitely have a look at that.


I hit upon this most delightful social experiment on BoingBoing a few days ago, the "What is your Formula?" project :

John Brockman's Edge "World Question Center" and the Seprentine Gallery in London debuted a new collaborative project where they asked dozens of smart people--scientists, authors, big thinkers--this question: "What is your formula? Your Equation? Your Algorithm?" People like Craig Venter, Keith Devlin, Freeman Dyson, Drew Endy, Brian Eno, and Douglas Rushkoff answered.

The project site is here, and the responses are absolutely mindblowing. I started off on this node, and rarely have I spent a more enlightening evening !


[0] Now for the customary fundaes on the cryptic title: it is lifted straight from Verdi's famous opera chorus, Va Pensiero

N.B: Wings made of any other publicly traded, instantly liquifiable, predictably seasonal, resale-value-preserving commodity with an average price gain of about 25% (Image) per year may also be considered :-)

[1] I was going through a Wikipedia list of the top bestselling books of all time, and was very surprised to see Don Quixote listed right up there with the Holy Bible and the Quran al kareem ! The first line of that book happens to be: "In a place at La Mancha, whose name I do not care to recall, not very long ago lived a noble, one of those nobles who keep a lance in the lance-rack, an ancient shield, a skinny old horse, and a fast greyhound."

The italicized line apparently is a classic Spanish cliché, and this is a humble hat-tip :-)

[2] Lisp is one of the most amazing computer languages ever, and was one of the first languages adopted by the CS academic research community, especially the part working on Artificial Intelligence. What's really great about it is that the language inspired many brilliant ideas like OOP, trees, automated garbage collection and compilers that could compile their own code !

Lisp is distinct because of its syntax: it's fully parantesized. Just look at this example:
((lambda (x) (list x (list 'quote x))) '(lambda (x)
list x (list 'quote x))))

The customary brilliant quotes by Phillip Greenspun:

SQL, Lisp, and Haskell are the only programming languages that I've seen where one spends more time thinking than typing.

Any sufficiently complicated C or Fortran program contains an ad-hoc, informally-specified bug-ridden slow implementation of half of Common Lisp. - Greenspun's Tenth Rule.

And the XKCD bit: