Monday, October 2, 2017

Short, but Sweet concert

Ananya Ashok gave a short, 90-minute concert under the auspices of South India Fine Arts at the Santa Clara Convention center on Sunday, October 1st, 2017. She was accompanied on the veena by Hrishikesh Chary and on the mridangam by Vignesh Venkataraman.

Elizabeth Bangs Theater, Santa Clara Convention Center
She began her concert with the Tyaagaraaja kriti bhavanuta na in mOhanam. This was followed by the popular Dikshitar kriti sarasijanabha sOdari in naagagaandhari - an apt song on devi considering that navratri had just concluded. Ananya sang the Purandara Dasa kriti, nInE anAtha bandhu next. The neraval on madanayya madhusUdananendare mundindali bandodagide krishna was exquisite. She sang the fast paced Papanasam Sivan kriti saravanabava guhane shanmukhane next. This was the lead in to the main song, which she sang next. Her detailed alapana in Bhairavi was truly a treat to listen to. She sang the Shyama Shastri classic, kamakshi amba. Hrishikesh also rendered a superb Bhairavi alapana. Vignesh's taniavartanam in mishra chaapu was shortened due to the condensed time of the concert. Nevertheless, he did justice in his allotted time. Ananya concluded her concert with a soulful rendering of the padam by muttuAndavar in khamAs, theruvil vArAnO. 

In this short concert, Ananya had weaved in songs from all three major composers. She included songs in Telegu, Kannada and Tamil.

Kudos to South India Fine Arts for providing the platform for up and coming, young artistes. The nearly full Elizabeth Hangs is testimony to the support from the audience in the Bay Area.

We certainly hope to listen to a full length concert by Ananya (for Bay Area audiences) in the near future.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Celebrating 50 years of Turing Awards

When I received an invitation to participate in the celebration of 50 years of the ACM Turing Award, I jumped at the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the computing profession and see what the future holds.

Since its inauguration in 1966, the ACM Turing Award has recognized major contributions of lasting importance in computing. It has become the most prestigious award in the field, often referred to as the "Nobel Prize of computing".

With Prof. Liskov at #Turing50
The event (on June 23rd) opened with Prof. Barbara Liskov (a Turing award winner herself) talking about the impacts made by the Turing award winners. Given that she just had 20 minutes, she  only covered the winners in the first 25 years.  They could be split four categories:

1. Theory (Knuth, Rabin & Scott, Stephen Cook, Richard Karp)
2. AI (Minsky, McCarthy, Newell & Simon)
3. Systems (Bachman, Codd, Thompson & Ritchie)
4. Programming Language & Methodology (Backus, Iverson, Djikstra, Floyd, Hoare, Wirth)

The first panel on "Advances is Deep Neural Networks" was moderated by Judea Pearl - a Turing award winner. The panelists included Michael Jordan and Stuart Russell of UCB. The intent of the panel was to discuss how deep learning has been applied with "great success" in speech recognition, image recognition, natural language processing, drug discovery, customer relationship management and recommendation systems. However, the panelists mostly dealt the "hype" around deep learning with a healthy dose of skepticism. "Neural Networks are faking it well enough that you can build companies and get funded", "Deep learning would not discover the Higgs-Boson particle from 50 Tb/sec of data generated by the Hadron Collider" were some of opinions. Every one agreed that "This is not the beginning. It is not the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning" (attributed to Winston Churchill, in Nov. 1942)

The next panel was on "Restoring personal privacy without compromising national security". The panelists included Turing award winner, Whitfield Diffie. We are living in the age of Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Exfiltration of Intellectual Property is only a click away. The panel explored how state-of-the-art cryptography and data management technology might enable government agencies to acquire actionable information about targets of investigation without intruding on the electronic activity of innocent parties. Bryan Ford provided an excellent opening statement where he said that technology has become an integral part of our system of governance that determines what rights and freedoms we do and don't have. So, policy makers need to work closely with technologists to preserve individual freedom and bridge the gap. Just as a definition of "healthy" is "absence of being sick", the definition of "security" is the "absence of being hacked".

The panel on "Moore's Law is really dead; What's Next" was moderated by John Hennessy. The panelists included Butler Lampson, a Turing Award winner. We are definitely seeing that semiconductor density is not doubling at the rate it has been. The 50-year exponential has ended. There are new paradigms being explored - such as spatial computation, programmable biology, Google's TensorFlow and quantum computing. Butler Lampson summed it up by playing on Richard Feynman's postulation, "There is plenty of room at the bottom" by saying, "There is plenty of room at the top".

Donald Knuth started proceedings on Saturday (June 24th). He gave an opening statement and then opened it up to audience questions. He was asked about the threat of AI (referring to the works and papers of UCB professor, Stuart Russell). He responded he would normally base his answer on the assumption that human beings are rational. "And then I looked at the election results," he said. He encouraged every one to watch his 2014 Kailath Lecture, at Stanford "Let us not dumb down the history of computer science". 

There were two other panels on Quantum Computing and Augmented Reality. The videos for the event are available for on-demand viewing here.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Time POY

Time Magazine will be announcing their annual Person of the Year on Wednesday, December 7th. In the past, I have been acknowledging and showcasing this choice by tweeting about it and / or featuring them on my Facebook page.

This year, the popular choice (with 18% of the votes) for Person of the Year (from among the various candidates with Person of the Year moments) is the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. However, if history is any indication, I am sure that Time will name Donald Trump as their POY.

I am sorry, I cannot bring myself to "celebrate" the announcement of Donald Trump as POY. As a result, I will (in all likelihood) not be featuring Time's choice with a tweet.

I hope (against hope) that Time proves me wrong and elects any other worthy candidate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Debate winner - how to scientifically determine the outcome

Tonight, we will have the third (and final) debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The inevitable question after each debate is, "Who won the debate?". Around 15 minutes after the conclusion of the debate, CNN will have a reporter present the "results" with words along the lines of, "This is an unscientific poll. We asked 15 undecided voters on their opinion. They are, however, leaning Democrats. So, you should not give too much credence to these results." Why bother providing us the results of the poll, in that case!

On the days following the debate, each candidate addresses rallies claiming that they "won by a landslide".

So, I decided to explore definitive ways to answer this question and determine the winner by applying scientific methodologies. This way we would not need to "speculate" or take a random person's opinion to determine the outcome.

I came across an example from Indian history of a debate between two famous philosophers, Adi Shankara and Mandan Mishra. They had opposing points of view with Shankara believing in the Advaita philosophy while Mishra was a proponent of the Mimamsa philosophy. In order to determine who won the debate, they both wore flower garlands on their bare chests. The person whose garland withers first is the loser.

While the external appearance can be "coached" and "controlled", it is not possible to control the human body's reaction to lies being told or anger or perspiration or genuine response to, "I am stumped". That is why the loser's garland withers first.

We heard the pundits refer to the number of times Donald Trump "twitched" or drank from his glass of water as an indication of his "unpreparedness" or inability to cope with the situation. While I shudder to imagine a bare chested Donald Trump, it is possible to use modern day technology to get the equivalent of a "withered garland". This way, we can have the debate moderator announce at the end of the debate, "Ladies and Gentlemen. I thank you for attending this evening's debate. Our scientific methodology indicates that the clear winner of the debate is ".

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Enough, already

There is a story about a boy who had difficulty in controlling his temper. His father asked him to hammer a nail into a fence each time he got angry. Over time, the number of nails he drove into the fence on a given day declined until he reached a day when he had not hit a single nail onto the fence. Now, his father asked him to remove a nail each day he was anger free. In a few weeks, all the nails were removed from the fence. The boy proudly showed the nail-free fence to his father. The father said, "Do you see the holes in the fence? It is scarred. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like these. No amount of apologies will restore the fence."

Donald Trump's apologies for his reprehensible comments are similar. If his (insignificant) position 11 years ago made him think he had the power that he refers to, imagine the power he would have as commander-in-chief. As Lord John Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The very thought of absolute power to Donald Trump sends a shiver down my spine.

I want to take cue from the fictional character, Howard Beale, (played by the oscar winning Peter Finch) and say, "I'm as mad as hell, and I am not going to take this any more." I certainly am mad as hell with Donald Trump. I am collectively asking the nation to not take this any more. Earlier, I had requested a favor to not nominate Donald Trump. Now, I am requesting the Commission on Presidential Debates to stop the farce on the debates. I cannot stand to hear more lies and false accusations from this disgrace that is the Republican nominee. I find Mike Pence to be a worthy Presidential candidate. He would still lose to Hillary, but a better candidate, nevertheless.

I have often heard people refer to Hillary Clinton as the "lesser of the two evils". I am with the Corpus Christi Caller Times editors in their endorsement of Hillary Clinton while debunking this myth.

Not everyone is perfect. Even Abraham Lincoln, considered by historians as the greatest US President ever, made several egregious errors. John F Kennedy had his transgressions. Hillary Clinton has her share. Her lifelong public service, her leadership, her ability to listen to people and the respect that she has from world leaders make her the only choice in the elections this November.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Do us a favor, GOP - do not nominate Mr. Trump

This is a cry in anguish.

As a nation, we are about to commit a travesty and nominate a racist, egomaniac, misogynist and generally unfit for office, candidate for President. To show that these are not merely "labels", allow me to provide instances that illustrate these traits in Donald Trump. In fact, there are so many outrages that is hard to keep track of all of them, put them in context and list them here.

When Indiana-born U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was hearing a suit against Trump University, Donald Trump went on a tirade against the respected, federal judge "because he is a Mexican". His bigotry does not stop there. When he saw an African American in one of his rallies, he remarked, "Look at my African-American over here".

Aside from Trump's public, sexist behavior (at the Republican debate) against Fox's Megyn Kelly, he has consistently insulted, stereotyped and belittled women. He has taken the time to insult notable women like Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Middler, Rosie O'Donnell and Cher. In fact, the Telegraph maintains a site that keeps track of all his offensive remarks!

His shocking ignorance of government policy is even more appalling. I think Cheryl Cook-Kallio's We The People students at Irvington High School know more about Government than Donald Trump. He appears to know next to nothing about the issues that would confront him in the job. If you like chilling horror stories, read the transcript of his meeting with the Editorial Board of the Washington Post. It is not as if the editors were trying to play "gotcha" or "trap" him. In response to straightforward questions, Trump's responses are vacuous. On topics ranging from racial disparity to foreign affairs his responses are vague. As Eugene Robinson aptly opined, "How is it conceivable to put a man who knows so little in charge of so much?"

The likes of George Bush (father and son, the 41st and 43rd presidents) and Mitt Romney have shown statesman-like courage and refused to show their support to Trump. In fact, the only living republican president or presidential candidate who will be at the Republican Convention is 92-year old Bob Dole. Even the most ultra conservative republican journalist, George F. Will has written an eloquent, scathing attack on Donald Trump.

I think President Obama summed it best when he said, in six short sentences, everything that is wrong about Donald Trump. This is not party politics playing out. Just a concerned citizen expressing his opinions.

Despite all of this, there are some polls that show Trump ahead of Clinton in the race to the White House. It is too late in the process to find another candidate to represent the Republican Party. So, this is a request to the GOP to sit this one out. Do not endorse Donald Trump. He has indicated that he will run as an independent. That is better than sullying the party of Abraham Lincoln (1861), Theodore Roosevelt (1901), Dwight Eisenhower (1953) and Ronald Reagan(1981). You can have your convention and groom candidates for the 2020 elections. Have the dignity and courage to say that there will not be a representative of the Republican Party in the 2016 elections.

After I published this blog, I came across a video (embedded in the following NY Times article) where David McCollough expresses a similar opinion more eloquently.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Martian

Being a Silicon Valley Engineer, one's interest is piqued when reading about Andy Weir's story about how he self-published his book - because no publisher wanted to touch it. After it became popular on Kindle, Crown Publishing finally published the book - that Joe Morgenstern (of Wall Street Journal) said was the best pure science fiction novel in years.

When the book is made into a movie directed by Ridley Scott, it became a "must see".

The movie certainly did not belie expectations. The thesis of the movie is how astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and gets left behind on Mars. Watney survives the storm and must draw upon all his ingenuity, training, science, engineering, wit and spirit to subsist to find a way to signal to the command center in Earth that he is alive. You love the way Watney uses-science-to-solve-problems. Even the non-science folks in the audience will find themselves applauding and egging him on to succeed. Sometimes he is foiled by Nature and sometimes his is foiled by error. He never gives up even when all hope seems to have faded.

The most appealing facet of the movie to me was the fact that it had no gun-toting, evil-minded villain. There is a sense of humanity and instinct of survival built into every frame. You find yourself rooting for Matt Damon not for some contrived reason (of getting back home to his anxious, forlorn wife or children), but because you want his courage, hope and doggedness to succeed.

Inevitably, this movie will be compared to Appolo 13. Twenty years later, I must admit that I watch reruns of the Ron Howard classic. Appolo 13, however, had too many emotional strings and sentimentality. Martian, on the other had, succeeds with wit and humanity. It is incredibly enjoyable and totally worth watching