• Eyes on Fire - Blue Foundation
  • Rooster - Alice in Chains
  • Jigsaw Falling into Place - Radiohead
  • Quien Fuera - Silvio Rodriguez
  • La Tortura - Shakira

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Mathematician plays the Stock Market

Game 1: I'll give you $10,000 and toss a coin. Heads - you get nothing. Tails - you get $5000.

Game 2: I'll give you $20,000 and toss a coint. Heads - you lose $10000. Tails - you lose $5000.

Which one would you play? Game 1 or Game 2?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

'The Goal' and growing up

'The Goal' has been on my wishlist for quite some time. Being in the supply chain business, it was required reading for me but I came around to it quite late. Still, it was a fascinating read. There is nothing new that I can add to what has already been said in the foreword.

Mr. Goldratt teaches us interesting concepts about engineering and mathematics using a story about a plant manager working to save his plant and his marriage. Every problem is first identified, formulated and a solution seems to emerge all by itself. I was reminded of an old teacher of mine,

Q: 'How do you solve a question?'

A: 'You ask questions!'

My favorite lesson involved an analogy drawn between the fluctuating gaps between a line of hiking boy scouts and inventory levels in a manufacturing plant. The same chapter also contained a game involving a series of bowls and matchsticks being moved thru the bowls to simulate throughput using the throw of a die to model randomized events and demand.

It has sparked off a desire to revisit probability and statistics. I wasn't very good at combinatorics and that spilled into the above subjects - but these are the real tools of applied mathematics and every engineer (even a 'computer science and engineering' grad :-)) should be familiar with these concepts.

Not to mention, Supply Chain isn't quite so boring after all. I've been enamored for too long by the elegance and simplicity of problems involving elementary mathematics while preparing for JEE. It's about time I got out of the mold - about 10 years too late to be honest.

I feel like John Cusack's character in High Fidelity in many ways. In one of the pivotal scenes in the movie, when asked to list his top 5 dream jobs, he starts checking off each of them one-by-one for reasons like 'I can't be a reporter for rolling stones in 1970' and 'I can't be a producer for atlantic records in 1969'.

He was refusing to grow up. His 'dream' jobs were adoloscent fantasies and instead stoked a bitterness for his present life. He ultimately realizes that owning his music store is the closest he could get to having his dream job. Funny that I should come to a similar conclusion - after I got married. Any guesses who got me thinking?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ultra-Marathon Man

Dean Karnazes fascinated me from the get-go when I first read an article about him in the Times. His ability to run for days on end motivated me to take up running more seriously, in particular his description of the giddy joys of eating - imagine downing whole cheesecakes for dessert.

The book was a letdown. It says a lot that the best thing about it was that it was a quick read. He does a decent job of describing the weird kinds physical challanges and side effects during the races. The extreme elements in mountains, deserts, forests and the weather are humbling and serve to remind us of our place on earth.

That said, the book failed at mutliple levels. Pretty quickly into the book, the self-pomposity and efforts to counter-balance it with fake humility come to the fore. He did a poor job of articulating the mental underpinnings behind such physical feats. It was a always a very unsophisticated rehash of 'Your body runs the first 10 miles, the mind runs the next 10 and your heart has to take over for the remaining six point two.'

I'm glad I read it but I feel even better that I borrowed it from the local library.

Friday, October 05, 2007

XO - God Bless You!

I heard about the 'One Laptop Per Child' project sometime back. Yesterday, I read David Pogues review of an XO prototype. David raved about the laptop - and rightly so.

I'm not much of a gadget geek. Yes, I do follow the occasional updates to Nikon SLRs (like it's recent full-frame offering) or the new iPhone which was very cool too. The XO is an altogether different matter. I can't believe the feature-set this tiny laptop offers. My personal favorites were:
1. mesh networking
2. security model
3. dust-proof and impact proof design

The simplicity of the system stands in sharp contrast with the bloated pieces of junk a.k.a PCs that we've come to rely on. I've gotten so tired of frequent windows crashes and slowdowns that i don't actually own my own PC now. I sent my two-year old dell 700m back home. I'm content using my work laptop and 90% of what I do is to browse anyway. I'm sometimes tempted to buy one of the new laptops but the thought of running Windows Vista makes me cringe. iMacs appear somewhat better at times but the cost is prohibitive and my technical ignorance of the platform stands against it.

Along the way comes this gem of a device. The ideas behind it are so fresh and innovative - it is hard to believe. Free of commercial constraints (like backwards compatibility), they had the luxury of choosing a security model without baggage. I'll root for this one and I hope larger business interests do not affect it's success. I'll seriously consider buying it (there is a buy one - donate one option for $400) if I see any scope of creative tinkering with it. Even if I don't buy one, I'll gladly pay $200 to donate it a needy child who will definitely benefit from it.

I haven't been as excited by the news of a new product in a very very long time. It gets even better because of the humanitarian underpinnings of the project.