Friday, August 29, 2014

Miniscule Musings

  1. NF has gushed about the awesome writing of Vikram Chandra before, especially his sprawling, beautiful ode to the Bombay criminal underworld: Sacred Games. Hence it's even more gratifying to know that greats such as James Gleick have joined the fan club! Here's Gleick's review of Chandra's "Geek Sublime" - a book about Chandra's ruminations about literature and...programming! Turns out that not only is Chandra an excellent writer but also a serious programmer (a few others with such a unique skill set include Charles-fuckin'-Stross and Neal-friggin'-Stephenson). Gleick's review is excellent and will make you want to read the latest from Vikram Chandra, in which he muses on Chomskyan generative grammar; Panini's anticipation of the same some 2500 years ago; the roots of programming languages; beauty in poetry as understood by ancient Sanskrit texts; the cosmology of Abhinavgupta and so on.

    And here's Vikram Chandra on Wired today: What India Can Teach Silicon Valley About Its Gender Problem.

  2. This is how William Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" - first in his paradigm shifting short story collection Burning Chrome - and then in his truly revolutionary and powerfully disruptive work Neuromancer. This three minute video features Gibson at his witty best - self deprecatory, wry and really funny! 

  3. And here is a collection of eleven funniest papers written in professional economics journals as compiled by Yoram Bauman - the first standup economist comedian. Though personally, NF knows that economic theorists are a funny lot (in particular game theorists are among the funniest professional groups that NF's come across - much more so than say applied mathematicians (but don't just take NF's word for it - he might be biased)) the list of works - some of them famous enough (examples being Krugman's paper on interstellar trade; and Avinash Dixit's on Seinfeld) but others, a complete revelation - examples being "Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires (Snower 1982)" and "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott Versus Brian Johnson (Oxoby 2009)". NF can't resist quoting a couple of lines from some of these papers. So here's Krugman:
    This article extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer traveling with the goods than to a stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved. 
    Many critics of conventional economics have argued, with considerable justification, that the assumptions underlying neoclassical theory bear little resemblance to the world we know. These critics have, however, been too quick to assert that this shows that mainstream economics can never be of any use. Recent progress in the technology of space travel… make this assertion doubtful; for they raise the distinct possibility that we may eventually discover or construct a world to which orthodox economic theory applies.

    And here's Avinash Dixit - who's among the most naturally witty people NF's personally come across. A few years back, the econ blogosphere was set ablaze by his paper "An Option Value Problem from Seinfeld" with what is most definitely the greatest abstract ever: "This is a paper about nothing". 

    Here's a little more:

    In an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld (Season 7, Episode 9, original air date December 7, 1995), Elaine Benes uses a contraceptive sponge that gets taken off the market. She scours pharmacies in the neighborhood to stock a large supply, but it is finite. So she must “re-evaluate her whole screening process.” Every time she dates a new man, which happens very frequently, she has to consider a new issue: Is he spongeworthy”? The purpose of this article is to quantify this concept of spongeworthiness. 
    When Elaine uses up a sponge, she is giving up the option to have it available when an even better man comes along. Therefore using the sponge amounts to exercising a real option to wait and spongeworthiness is an option value. It can be calculated using standard option-pricing techniques. However, unlike the standard theory of financial or many real options, there are no complete markets and no replicating portfolios. Stochastic dynamic programming methods must be used.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Son Also Rises

Via the always brilliant, the fabulous Mayank Tewari reports on the blinding rise of a dazzling talent in Hindi travel writing - a long neglected genre within the mainstream Hindi writing establishment - Anil Yadav's Wah Bhi Koi Des Hai Maharaj (वह भी कोई देस है महाराज (tr. (Is) That too a country my lord)). The article charts the cult status the work has suddenly attained and also the searing intensity of Yadav's writing. An excerpt from Mayank Tewari's article:
His second and most recent work, which came out last year, Wah Bhi Koi Desh Hai Maharaj (Is That Even a Country, My Lord!), an account of his travels in the North East in the early 2000s, has taken the Hindi literary scene by storm. Largely ignored by a Bollywood-obsessed media, the book is all the rage among the depleting mass of Hindi readers and is on its way to attaining cult status.

The 158-page book is the story of India’s most neglected region told by the narrative voice of a poor, petulant reporter. Anyone who doubts the power of Hindi must read it. 
Tewari compares Yadav's sincere, honest-no-holds-barred writing to David Foster Wallace and his manic dedication to nothing but literature to that of a character from Bolaño's oeuvre.
At 45, Yadav is angry in a healthy sort of way. Sequestered in a Himachal village, he is working on his first novel, which he hopes will be out in the middle of next year. He has a mobile phone, but no internet connectivity. "I don’t have to worry about anything here," he said. "All I do is write." 
Before dinner he has a drink. For the rest of the time, he writes, and reads. He comes across like a character from a Roberto Bolaño book, a reclusive writer with an untrained mind, someone like Hans Reiter from 2666. His soft voice, firm but not intimidating, betrayed no trace of the anger that sometimes burns on the pages of his writing. 

The excellent article also resurrected long forgotten memories of my own epic trip (taken along with many other friends from S'kal) to the same region, though (for reasons best not explicated) much of those wonderful memories died instantly along with the brain cells they were attached on to. If however, we ever write our memoirs of times in the NE, they'll be quite different from those of (the Lucknow based(!)) Anil Yadav who was masquerading as a Delhi journalist writing on the Bihari workers' killings taking place there. 

And so I did manage to hunt down some excerpts from the book at the ever-awesome where the book was being promoted in 2012 when it first came out. Those who want to read the passages from the book may do so here (part 1) and here (part 2). As Tewari correctly points out, the writing is real, hard-hitting, scorching and yet very funny - a rare combination indeed.

Which brings me to the last point regarding this wonderful development. Pandu, if you're reading this, then seriously...fuck you! When are you going to put your head down, get your ass to work and write the irreverent, morbid, funny, grotesque, convention-smashing book that we all have a right to read? And if you're incapable, let SatyaVrat take the center stage.

To fellow mortals - go read the article. To those who can read Hindi - go read the full book - as I intend to do!

Update: Here is an interview of Anil Yadav who doesn't disappoint at all in the refreshing honesty of his opinion.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Here Comes the Credit Roll...

Here's NF's best friend from childhood, Abhinav Anand's Acknowledgment section from his recently completed PhD thesis in economics:


“All this happened, more or less”, thus begins Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the opening lines echoing the hazy, ambiguous, somewhat amorphous mix of sentiments the culmination of my PhD evokes in me. It has been an eventful journey and I daresay I have learned much, though a sense of humility, engendered by the depth of my ignorance; and a feeling of excitement of learning so much more, remain the stronger impressions.

While I will be credited as the sole author of this thesis, it is definitely a collaborative effort only made possible by the support of so many. My deepest thanks go to my dissertation advisor Professor Sandro Brusco whose razor-sharp mind, awe-inspiring erudition and insistence on independent thinking have shaped my development in important ways. I thank Professor Yair Tauman for his unconditional support, good humor and ever-useful advice all through my PhD. I also wish to thank Professor Pradeep Dubey for first suggesting the problem that kick-started my PhD, for helping me shift to the Economics department from Applied Mathematics; and for inculcating in me a love for writing which is clear, precise, even beautiful.

I have been incredibly lucky to have been mentored by Professor Svetlozar Rachev whose lectures in Mathematical Finance in general, and those on fat-tailed distributions in particular, taught me whatever little I do know in Finance. A large part of my research builds upon the pioneering work done by him over the years and the wonderful textbooks he has written on the subject. I also thank Professor Young Shin Kim for his constant guidance and for supervising my research work in Finance which owes a great debt to a sequence of papers written by him recently. It is indeed an honor to co-author a paper with him and it was my great fortune to work with him in the College of Business in my final stages of PhD. I also want to applaud Professor Hugo Benitez-Silva and his helmsmanship of the Economics department. His adept handling of all difficulties — academic, financial or otherwise — helped me stay on course and complete my PhD.

Among fellow graduate students and friends, I must first thank Bruno for teaching me almost everything I know in Economics; Sama and Soyol for always being there when it mattered; Tiantian and Kurosaki san for being so patient during our collaboration; Monstha and Vatsa for all the years of companionship; Vatsa, Vicky and Abhra for their “Fellowship for Impecunious Graduate Students”; Jacques for five years of uninterrupted comedy; Tamara and Anju for making commuting a fun adventure; Xin and Kaya for being inspirations; Deniz for her invaluable friendship; Michael, Lala and Sumit babu for being my wonderful little faux-Karamazovian family at 213 Main Street; and of course to Shishir for being a friend indeed.

Thanks also to all my family whose total trust and support I’m lucky enough to have enjoyed all through my life — in particular, to Mitu bhaiya and Abha bhabhi for being the iron pillars of support I could rely on. I end by thanking my late grandfather Pt. Dharnidhar Dwivedi in whose memory this thesis is dedicated.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Stinking Lizaveta

A freewheeling, somewhat speculative but ultimately very intriguing hypothesis connecting Mother Russia's foul, unbearably repressive polity to the "two abysses" that Dmitri Karamazov is accused of being caught between in The Brothers Karamazov. Also, starring are Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Varlam Shalamov, Andrei Tarkovsky and Putin as the reincarnation of Smerdyakov: The Two Abysses of the Soul.

Do read!