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…

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…

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…

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…