“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…

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…

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…

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…