अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

July 5, 2010

The (Not So) Secret Logo of India Inc.

The (Not So) Secret Logo India Inc.

A Trophy of the Operation Green Hunt

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February 6, 2009

(Lack of) Imagination for Insulting

As a result of having half a lifetime’s experience of being the target of insults from a very wide variety of people: of all ages, classes, castes, nationalities, sexes, religions, etc. (a large and very representative sample), the writer of this blog has made the discovery that the quality of insults hurled out by someone is a very good and very accurate indication of that person’s intelligence and imagination. This more general part of the discovery is less disturbing. It’s almost as satisfying as any scientific discovery.

The more specific part of the discovery, however, is very disturbing, even though it shouldn’t really be so very unexpected. This specific part is that the vast majority of the people hurling insults is completely lacking in imagination and seems to have very low intelligence as reflected in the quality of their insults. The writer can say without hesitation that at least 95% of the insulters will qualify as mentally challenged. Severely. And that’s a conservative estimate.

As any reader of this blog could have noticed, the writer of this blog is not a very modest person. And he claims to have extraordinary ability to come up with highly creative insults that can send even a person of strong temperament reeling with emotional pain. But, for some reason, he keeps this extraordinary power of his under very tight control, so much so that it is rarely exercised, at least against individuals.

But he is disheartened by the depressingly dismal quality of insults hurled out by others at him.

 

Show some imagination folks. Some intelligence. Don’t be (in your good language) so damned fucking stupid. So (in your average language) damned fucking re-tards. So (in your still more average language) damned fucking fagots.

He can give you a clue for coming up with good insults: Truth Helps.

 

 

And don’t tell me that this discovery is not really novel. I now suspect that of every discovery.

June 1, 2008

Who’s Afraid of Arundhati Roy?

[This is an extended version of a comment posted on the Outlook magazine website in response to an article by Reeta Sinha.]

I couldn’t really understand what exactly is your point (if any). I do get it that you are enraged by the attention that Arundhati Roy is getting (through her ‘attention grabbing devices’). That’s fine with me. It’s true that she is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, just as her ‘one-book-wonder’ has earned a disproportionate amount of money.

Apart from that, I don’t understand what objections you have which made you write such a long piece on a non-issue. Are you objecting to some particular stand taken by her? To some particular protest she has been involved in?

Or are you just saying that all that she has been arguing for is wrong and that all her ’causes’ are unworthy of support? Or that the causes may be alright but her arguments are wrong?

Frankly, I am not able to get any clue about the answers to these questions from your lengthy tirade against Arundhati Roy, the celebrity.

Do you actually have any stand about any of those causes? Or do you believe they should be left to the experts?

I will tell you my opinion. Of course, what she is saying is not very original in terms of the content. It’s not meant to be original. The purpose of (explicitly) political writing is not to be original, but to effectively argue about some cause or some issue or even about the world in general. Effectively enough for people to pay attention. This means originality in terms of style, at least.

Now, even though you seem to be enraged by the attention she is getting (people interviewing her about herself), you seem to be suggesting that people are actually not paying attention to her, i.e., to what she is saying about the causes and the issues. Is that really so? I don’t think so. Yes, more people are paying attention to the members of the RSS family than to her. In fact, more people are paying attention to Narendra Modi than to her, but then the very nature of what she talks about is such that no one usually wants to listen to those things. Because it can make you uncomfortable and disturbed. It can even shake your very foundations, brainwashed as you may be by the whole system of manufactured consent.

Those people in Nepal who have been brought up on the culture of devotion to the King are still not able to accept the fact that monarchy is a bad idea. Devotion to the monarchy may be at the root of their philosophy of life. They are not going to be convinced easily. Perhaps some will never be. Till they die. But their children (or grandchildren) will have no problem in getting convinced.

So, even if, in absolute terms, not many may be paying attention to her political writing, in relative terms, a large number of people are paying attention to her. And people are not just paying attention to *her*, they are actually paying attention to the causes she is talking about. She has managed to convince some people. Not you, perhaps, but some people. And you may not think so, but a very large number of activists, including those who are scholars of the highest repute and the highest order, do believe that her arguments are convincing and persuasive. You are entitled to your opinion, but then so am I. And so are those who agree with her. And by any standards, the quality of people who agree with her is, on the whole, much higher than those who don’t. You can find the details about this claim if you do your own research (without leaving it to an expert) on her, and on the people I am talking about.

And also about the problems she is talking about.

Why don’t you take your own advice? Ignore the person and focus on the cause. That is, if you think there is a cause. I could have said more about this had you shown any interest in any cause while writing your piece and given some indication of where you stand. For example, what is your position on the War on Terror? Or on the Big Dams? Or on nuclear weapons? Or on Fascism? Or on globalization? Or on Salva Judum? The only hint I can get from your article is that you don’t think any of these issues are important enough for anyone to ‘shout from the rooftop’, as Arundhati Roy described her attempts. Like so many others, you perhaps don’t mind people shouting from the rooftop about safe issues (or non-issues), which doesn’t shake anyone’s foundations.

To make clear why I am writing this, I will repeat again. Ignore the person if you don’t like her talking about herself. Instead focus on the issue or the cause. It is possible, you know.

To me, it doesn’t matter much whether she likes being called an activist or not. Or a writer-activist or not, for that matter. To me, what matters is whether what she is saying about the Big Dams or about corporatization (in the name of globalization) or about Fascism has any validity or not.

Yes, she does get hyperbolic sometimes, but then no one is perfect.

You can avoid hyperbole completely by being a loyal obedient orderly, for example. But I would have no respect for her if she followed this course.

I prefer Kabir (who did use hyperboles quite a lot) to Birbal or Tenali Rama (who also used hyperboles, but in a very safe way).

I like Ramachandra Guha’s writings, but I like P. Sainath’s writings more. But some might say that Sainath also gets hyperbolic. Some might even say that he is glorifying suicides. I know what is the problem with such people.

Literary writing, fictional or non-fictional, explicitly political or implicitly political (there is no such thing as non-political), is not (fortunately) dictated by what teachers of English composition say.

Ever heard of James Joyce? Samuel Beckett? Kafka? Gabriel Garcia Marques? Salman Rushdie?

Pablo Neruda? He was a big celebrity too.

Shakespeare? He is so full of attention grabbing devices. And all his devices have been adopted into the English language. Did your English composition teacher tell you this?

Arrogance! Arrogance!

What about ignorance?

More importantly, what about willful ignorance?

April 11, 2008

Patent Madness

So we have one more reason in support for the idea that patents are a bad idea. The latest is the news that a company called Digital Reasoning has been awarded a patent on what looks like contextual similarity. What the ‘news report’ says includes:


This breakthrough patent grants broad protection for how artificial intelligence, including neural networks, genetic algorithms, and vector space models can be used to learn the meanings of symbols – such as words, categories, or numerical values. Understanding the subtle meaning of terms in context has been one of the “Holy Grails” of artificial intelligence. Not only is Digital Reasoning® fully able to accomplish this feat, it is now patented.

Here is one comment about this:

Anyone from the ACL/ML/AI community can immediately recognize this and start citing their favorite papers on these topics starting from at least a decade ago. A promotional video from the company on YouTube can be found here. Excerpt from the video: “… We treat the text representation of human language as a signal … “.

I think everyone should stop taking patents seriously. Wishful thinking?

Here is another:

Do the people ‘in-charge’ have any clue about the previous/current reseach done in the related field? How can they accept such stuff? Doesn’t make any sense, whatsoever.

But then they had accepted patents on haldi, neem and basmati. I am worried about jal jeera and pani poori.

Also, ganne ka ras.

Madness.

No need for me to say more as so many others have already talked about this:

In August last year there was a news item about Yoga devices being patented in the US. Small mercy that the Government of India succeeded in cautioning the U.S. Government against granting patents to Yoga postures (asanas).

There was a time (in India) when patents were awarded on processes, not products. That meant that even if some company had patented a method for producing a particular medicine, someone else could come along and find a better way and sell the medicine cheaper. Now, since the patents are granted on products, under orders from the empire that rules the world, that kind of thing can’t happen.

It can a be matter of life and death for millions of people.

I look forward to the day when self-respecting researchers won’t proudly list the patents they have been able to obtain.

Patents are among the most evil inventions of humankind.

March 23, 2008

Mythical Pretensions of Originality (1)

[Disclaimer: This is not a scientific article. It is based on partly objective and partly subjective, but in any case sincere, analysis of the author’s knowledge of and experience in the world of research. No empirical evidence is presented as, in the author’s belief, enough empirical evidence can be presented about this topic to prove whatever you want. This is just a request to look at research honestly and sincerely without self-deception and pretensions.]

There is a very old and much discussed question which has been bothering me for a long time. Like in many other cases, so far I avoided writing about this because:

  1. I didn’t want to repeat things which have already been said.
  2. To say something new on this topic requires a lot of leisure, which I don’t have.
  3. The problem with saying something new about this is the topic itself.
    • What is original and what is not?
    • What is innovation and what is not?
    • What is creativity and what is not?
    • Is there anything in this world which is really original?

But, again like many other things, I have been provoked enough to write this post. I will try to do my best. As much as can be done in a single blog post.

What is the provocation? The provocation is the intensely irritating pretensions of originality from ‘researchers’ who have happened to review my or some others’ papers. They write as if every paper selected in every conference, journal and workshop is a completely original work. This, frankly, has started to get on my nerves. Because I know very well that this is simply not true.

The truth is not that every paper selected in every conference, journal and workshop is worthless or mere repetition of old things. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere between these two extremes.

However, I am quite sure that it lies much nearer to the second extreme than to the first. Even for the top ‘first class’ conferences and journals.

To quote from the article How to do Research At the MIT AI Lab, 1998 by David Chapman (Editor):

At some point you’ll start going to scientific conferences. When you do, you will discover the fact that almost all the papers presented at any conference are boring or silly. (There are interesting reasons for this that aren’t relevant here.)

I will go on to say that most of them have hardly any originality (that’s partly why they are boring). If you have sufficient resources, you can almost follow a recipe to write a paper which will get selected at a conference, workshop or journal. And this is exactly what is done. And it works too. One of the reasons is that it is easier this way for the reviewers. They don’t have to think hard about the originality of the paper. Because, of course, it is very hard to decide whether something shrewdly written and well presented is original or not. Quite often there may not be a clear-cut answer at all.

One of the essential elements of the the most popular recipe is to work on problems which are currently in fashion and do some experiments, any experiments, on that problem and present the results. If you practice enough, it can hardly go wrong. That’s how a great number of papers get published. No originality needed. Just be fast enough to do the experiments (which someone else would anyway have done in the near future) and write a paper. It’s somewhat like buying stock. Beat others by being the first to buy the stock as soon as it comes out. You just have to know how to fill up the form and complete the transactions. This applies even more to top conferences than to workshops.

If you think I am talking nonsense, I would request you refresh your Chomsky (in case you are a linguist) or refresh your Jurafsky-Martin (in case you are, as the term goes, an NLPer or a computational linguist).

If you do the above carefully, you will find that almost all the elements of Chomskian Linguistics can be traced back to some linguist, writer, philosopher or thinker of the past. (By the way, this applies to the ‘Theory of Evolution’ too). Similarly, you will find in Jurafsky-Martin that almost every discovery has been made by more than one scientist or thinker, including this one.

And if you go back to the top conference and journal papers, you will again find that most of the papers don’t really have anything really new to say.

So do I mean that all research is nonsense and useless? Certainly not. Why would I be in research if that was so? What’s the catch? The catch is that the emphasis on originality is highly misplaced.

What I am saying certainly doesn’t imply that there is nothing ‘original’ in the Chomskian Linguistics. But it does probably mean that we are looking for originality in the wrong place. I hope some day I will be able to say this with more clarity and preciseness.

But we would definitely be much better off if we dropped the mythical pretensions of the originality of every published paper. Originality is just one of the goals of research. Most of the research is routine research. Incremental research. That doesn’t make it useless. Really original papers can be expected only once in a long while. The rest should be seen as attempts to advance the state of the art marginally. Without much originality. Most of research is plain hard work. Rigorous work. Results of experiments which by themselves do not really matter much, but a small fraction of them could, just could, provide some insight for someone else to come up with something which is ‘original’. This (at best) is the purpose which more than 99 percent of the published papers serve and we better realize this instead of indulging in rampant self-deception about originality.

Coming to NLP and CL or even Linguistics, it is even more important to realize and accept the above mentioned fact. The reason is that research in these disciplines depends to a great extent on creation of resources (language resources as well as tools) which may not be very ‘original’ in nature as the word is usually understood. A lot of papers should and do report just the development of these resources and they are published. The trouble is that everyone is forced to create a false facade of originality and creativity which is not really there. You have to falsely claim the worth of your papers in terms of originality and ‘novelty’ when actually the worth is just in plain hard work. But if you don’t put up that facade, you are out.

Have you considered the fact that a lot of the Great Discoveries were accidental discoveries? Was there so much originality in those discoveries? I don’t know. It may sound cliched, but it does depend on how you define originality. Perhaps the better way is to emphasize less on (true or false or anything in between) originality and more on usefulness. At least in disciplines like NLP and CL where, if you ask most researchers, they won’t even be able to give a coherent answer about what exactly they are trying to achieve through their research. And where we don’t even know for sure whether there is anything really scientific to be achieved. Even after the great linguistic revolution, we hardly know anything about language that can be termed as scientific as the laws of Physics or the theorems of Mathematics. At most we can say that we are trying to build machines which can give better practical results. We need a LOT of hard work and only a little bit of originality. And this originality, like in other disciplines, is hard to come by.

I, for one, am not going to insist on a facade of ‘originality’ for the description of the hard work to be accepted for publication. Of course, there should not be verbatim repetition, but I don’t have any illusions about the originality of papers published anywhere. Further, I am going to prefer papers describing intelligent hard work over almost worthless but seemingly innovative cooked-to-recipe papers.

May be this is an empty declaration because I may not get to be in a position to insist or not to insist, but I can still make the statement at least.

It is my informal personal blog after all. I can afford to be as honest and direct here as I want.

That doesn’t mean I am not aware of the possible consequences.

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