# “A California Story” by Namit Arora: An Endearing, Honest Portrait of Indian American Life

by Hari Balasubramanian A degree in engineering from India, grad school at an American university, and a job at an American corporation: call it the Indian-engineer version of the American dream. Like hundreds of thousands of Indian immigrants, Ved, the 36-year old protagonist of A California Story, appears to have fulfilled this dream. He lives in…

# One Foot In Engineering, The Other In The Humanities: Reflections On My Career and Interests

by Hari Balasubramanian A bit of self indulgence – also a kind of preface to all the 3 Quarks Daily essays I’ve written. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who is more drawn to the humanities than to math or the sciences. This can seem very puzzling to someone who looks at my career…

# Means, Medians and Percentiles: Common Statistics Through an Optimization Lens

by Hari Balasubramanian Optimization – the search for the best among many – is at the heart of the statistical and machine learning models that get used so extensively these days. Take the simple concept that underlies many of these models: fitting a mathematical curve to data points, better known as regression. In the simplest…

# Who knew healthcare could be so complicated? Snapshots from an American dataset

by Hari Balasubramanian Just as the distribution of wealth exhibits dramatic skews – a small percent owns a disproportionate share of the total wealth – so too does the distribution of healthcare expenditures. When individuals in the US population are ranked based on their healthcare expenditures in a particular year, then it turns out that:…

# Things related to corn: nixtamalization, planting techniques (the milpa), and journeys in North America

by Hari Balasubramanian There are techniques of processing food that ancient cultures everywhere seem to have arrived at through an unstructured process of trial and error, and without a formal understanding of chemistry. This is how wheat grains turned into bread loaves, milk to cheese, soybeans to tofu, fruits to alcohol. As the techniques traveled…

# All models are wrong, some are useful

by Hari Balasubramanian Thoughts on the differences in math applied to the physical and social sciences. The quote in the title is attributed to the statistician George Box. The term ‘model' could refer to a single equation, a set of equations, or an algorithm that takes an input and carries out some calculations. Box's point…

# Mark the Janitor, and Other Anecdotes

by Hari Balasubramanian I've noticed that it isn't easy to strike up a meaningful conversation with someone who doesn't fit into your professional or social circle. Even among strangers we look for clues and – understandably – seek out people with whom we might have something in common. This behavior appears to erect subtle barriers…

# How I was drawn to birds

by Hari Balasubramanian There are interests that lie dormant within us, waiting to take hold some day. If someone had said ten years back that I'd be into birds, I would have been skeptical. It's true that I always had a fondness for animals: in high school, I spent a lot of time following neighborhood…

# Quantitative Measures of Linguistic Diversity and Communication

by Hari Balasubramanian Of the 7097 languages in the world, twenty-three (including the usual suspects: Mandarin, English, Spanish, various forms of Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese) are spoken by half of the world's population. Hundreds of languages have only a handful of speakers and are disappearing quickly; one language dies every four months. Some parts of…

# Four days in Jogja

by Hari Balasubramanian I was in the city of Jogjakarta (also spelled as Yogyakarta) in May 2015. It was a short stay: I was primarily visiting Hong Kong, but then had to exit Hong Kong to re-enter because my visa-free stay had expired. Nearby countries would have served the purpose, but I chose Indonesia —…

# Nature Notes From Massachusetts: How The Land Has Changed

by Hari Balasubramanian I've lived in Massachusetts for 8 years now, and I've always been struck by the density and variety of trees here – maples, oaks, birches, beeches, chestnuts, hickories, white pines, pitch pines, hemlocks, firs. Look in any direction and your view is likely to be blocked by a tangle of trees: in…

# Where Probability Meets Literature and Language: Markov Models for Text Analysis

by Hari Balasubramanian Is probabilistic analysis of any use in analyzing text – sequences of letters or sequences of words? Can a computer generate meaningful sentences by learning statistical properties such as how often certain strings of words or sentences occur in succession? What other uses could there be of such analysis? These were some…

# A note on peppers

by Hari Balasubramanian The Indian subcontinent is well known for its spices, and one of its stellar contributions is the ubiquitous black pepper. Native to South India and Southeast Asia (see unripe green fruits in picture), it’s been around for thousands of years, making its way very early to Europe and other parts of Asia…

# Stray Memories

by Hari Balasubramanian During my middle and high school years, I became fascinated with two generations of stray dogs that lived in my neighborhood. This was in the early 1990s. My family lived in the central Indian city of Nagpur, in a 3rd story flat. The flat had a couple of balconies (decks) which gave…

# What does it mean to stay ‘Present’? Can we control our thoughts?

by Hari Balasubramanian This piece is framed as a 'conversation' but it is really a conversation or debate between two voices/perspectives in my own head (here's a similar piece from last year). __ “There's a lot of talk these days about 'staying in the present moment', 'being mindful', etc. I find it all quite puzzling.…

# Reflections on War and Peace, and The Inner Work of Pierre Bezukhov

by Hari Balasubramanian I finished reading War and Peace recently. It took me three years but I did try to read it carefully. Tolstoy defined art “as that human activity which consists in one person's consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he or she has experienced, and in others being infected…

# How much should you plan for?

by Hari Balasubramanian Decisions under demand uncertainty – the so called newsvendor problem. In October 2007, my father and I took a day train from Bangalore to Chennai. About halfway into the 7-hour journey is a station called Jolarpet, where the train stops for ten minutes. As at other stations, there were dozens of vendors…

# The Monarch Butterflies

by Hari Balasubramanian A selection of facts, research and personal impressions. In February this year, I traveled to the small town of Angangueo in Central Mexico. A 4-hour bus trip from Mexico City, Angangueo is in a rural part of the state of Michoacan, in the mountainous trans-volcanic belt. Here, in a few select high…

# Unconditioned by the past

by Hari Balasubramanian Exploring the Memoryless property of the Exponential Distribution. Waiting For the Next Customer Suppose you run a small business, a barber shop or a small restaurant that takes walk-ins only. A customer has just left, your place is empty, and you are waiting for the next customer to come in. You've figured…

# Chasing Beavers

by Hari Balasubramanian A selection of facts, research and personal encounters involving beavers and their habitat. In October 2007, an 835-meter long beaver dam was discovered on Google Earth. It remains the longest one found so far. The dam was in the “thick wildness of Northern Alberta”, in Wood Buffalo National Park. In July 2014…