About Abhi

Abhi lives in Los Angeles and works to put things into space.

Guest Blogger: Razib Khan

He has been a commenter since the very beginning of SM. It makes sense that he finally has a shot as an actual guest blogger here. Please welcome Razib Khan who has most recently been unzipping his goodies and posting them all over the internet as a way for people to get to know him better and also learn a little about themselves. The next month might be somewhat esoteric at times, but it will definitely be a learning experience. And maybe he’ll coax a few more of us to unzip our South Asian goodies in the name of science.

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Math nerd meets lottery ticket

Wired has a totally charming story of one man’s quest to understand and beat the confounding scratch-off lottery ticket:

Mohan Srivastava, a geological statistician living in Toronto, was working in his office in June 2003, waiting for some files to download onto his computer, when he discovered a couple of old lottery tickets buried under some paper on his desk. The tickets were cheap scratchers–a gag gift from his squash partner–and Srivastava found himself wondering if any of them were winners. He fished a coin out of a drawer and began scratching off the latex coating. “The first was a loser, and I felt pretty smug,” Srivastava says. “I thought, ‘This is exactly why I never play these dumb games.’”

The second ticket was a tic-tac-toe game. Its design was straightforward: On the right were eight tic-tac-toe boards, dense with different numbers. On the left was a box headlined “Your Numbers,” covered with a scratchable latex coating. The goal was to scrape off the latex and compare the numbers under it to the digits on the boards. If three of “Your Numbers” appeared on a board in a straight line, you’d won. Srivastava matched up each of his numbers with the digits on the boards, and much to his surprise, the ticket had a tic-tac-toe. Srivastava had won $3. “This is the smallest amount you can win, but I can’t tell you how excited it made me,” he says. “I felt like the king of the world.”

Delighted, he decided to take a lunchtime walk to the gas station to cash in his ticket. “On my way, I start looking at the tic-tac-toe game, and I begin to wonder how they make these things,” Srivastava says. “The tickets are clearly mass-produced, which means there must be some computer program that lays down the numbers. Of course, it would be really nice if the computer could just spit out random digits. But that’s not possible, since the lottery corporation needs to control the number of winning tickets. The game can’t be truly random. Instead, it has to generate the illusion of randomness while actually being carefully determined…”

Srivastava had been hooked by a different sort of lure–that spooky voice, whispering to him about a flaw in the game. At first, he tried to brush it aside. “Like everyone else, I assumed that the lottery was unbreakable,” he says. “There’s no way there could be a flaw, and there’s no way I just happened to discover the flaw on my walk home.”And yet, his inner voice refused to pipe down. “I remember telling myself that the Ontario Lottery is a multibillion-dollar-a- year business,” he says. “They must know what they’re doing, right?” [Link]

This story reiterated in my mind how important it is to have a good understanding of science and mathematics in modern society. Consider how many activities in your day are governed by a mathematical code or logical pattern of some kind. Every minute you spend on Facebook you are helping Facebook perfect and equation to predict what you might buy for example. Nerds are poised to inherit the future.

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The coming decade for South Asians

For the past week, in addition to creating a list of modest New Year’s resolutions (oh how I miss the days when my resolutions were wildly ambitious!), I have been thinking about how the “South Asian American experience” will change and evolve during this decade. For instance, in 2004 when we started this blog, South Asian Americans were still “outsiders” in many respects. Now, we’ve given up noting much of what was quite notable back then (e.g., every actor, politician, musicians). So here is my list of top 10 predictions involving South Asian American society for the next 10 years:

1) The United States will have its first South Asian senator

2) Entrepreneurs will be the new doctors in terms of finding a respectable marriage match (e.g., “oh you should meet their son Ravi, he is having new start-up company”)

3) South Asian reporters on the scene will replace Asian reporters on the scene

4) Every other instance of a NYTimes wedding announcement featuring a South Asian person will be in the context of an interracial couple

5) Movies directed by M. Night Shyamalan will no longer mention the director as part of the movie ad campaign.

6) All South Asian American bloggers will go the way of the Dodo.

7) Slumdog Millionaire will be derided for having won best picture (e.g., really, we thought that was best picture that year?)

8) Americans in the media will pronounce South Asian names correctly…well almost. Much much better at least.

9) Yoga will be the new Starbucks

10) A South Asian American author will write an amazing work of fiction (maybe even one that will be turned into a movie) with almost no hint of any South Asian themes

11) There will be a headline grabbing sex scandal involving a South Asian American

Ok so there are 11 not 10. But only because I believe one of these won’t happen.

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Pakistan creates fake WikiLeaks

It might be that Pakistan is just more clever about how to deal with Wikileaks than other governments. What do you do when a large number of Wikileaks makes your government look weak, corrupt and inept? Make up something even worse about your rival so the people can focus their attention elsewhere. In the case of Pakistan, they have decided to inform their citizens about leaked information from the U.S. government about India:

They read like the most extraordinary revelations. Citing the WikiLeaks cables, major Pakistani newspapers this morning carried stories that purported to detail eye-popping American assessments of India’s military and civilian leaders.

According to the reports, US diplomats described senior Indian generals as vain, egotistical and genocidal; they said India’s government is secretly allied with Hindu fundamentalists; and they claimed Indian spies are covertly supporting Islamist militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt and Balochistan.

“Enough evidence of Indian involvement in Waziristan, Balochistan,” read the front-page story in the News; an almost identical story appeared in the Urdu-language Jang, Pakistan’s bestselling daily.

If accurate, the disclosures would confirm the worst fears of Pakistani nationalist hawks and threaten relations between Washington and New Delhi. But they are not accurate. [link]

This was funny:

The lopsided media coverage highlights the strong influence of Pakistan’s army over an otherwise vigorous free press.

This morning’s stories disparaging Indian generals – one is said to be “rather a geek”, another to be responsible for “genocide” and compared to Slobodan Milosevic – is counterbalanced by accounts of gushing American praise for Pakistan’s top generals. [link]

A “geek?” Oh, no he didn’t. This was actually pretty predictable. In an era where we have a ton of information at our fingertips, we also have a ton of misinformation there as well. Conspiracy theories abound, both abroad and at home. The cables themselves are a mix of the objective and subjective to begin with. Therefore, “truth” belongs to he who best gets his message out.

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Passing down vanishing skills during Thanksgiving

I think I probably speak for many of us second generation South Asian Americans when I say that Thanksgiving, as much as it is a holiday for spending time with family, has also become a race-against-time once-a-year cooking clinic. There are a great many tasty dishes and culinary techniques that are disappearing in diaspora communities at the same rate as endangered species and languages. Packaged foods, restaurants, and fusion creations are replacing good old-world home cooking. There are a number of techniques I recommend to combat this trend. First, get a Google Voice account. Ask your mom or dad to call the Google Voice number and hit the digit “4″ to record. That way, when they tell you that recipe for the 100th time, you won’t have to worry about forgetting it. If you are at home this Thanksgiving then you can also set up one of those simple, pocket-sized digital movie cameras and record what is going on in the kitchen (like your mom telling you that you are rolling the velan incorrectly). Finally, PRACTICE. You might mess it up 10 times but on that 11th try hit the sweet spot and trigger a flood of memories.

I took my own advice and set up a video camera in our kitchen yesterday. I learned to roll parathas and then flipped them to my brother to cook up.

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Sikhs in the Yankee Army

As we tweeted earlier, here is an intriguing picture: A Sikh American Civil War veteran [via Sikhnet]

Here is the caption as to the origin of the picture:

I came across this photograph recently. It is a photo of British veterans of the American Civil War of 1861-65. The British veterans had gathered in London in 1917 to welcome the American troops on their way to Fight in France during World War One. Among them is (I believe ) a Sikh gentlemen sitting near the centre. I am curious to see if there were any Sikhs in the US army at this time.I am trying to discover this persons story as it is seems very interesting. Any insight in this matter would be most appreciated. -R.S. Kooner

Keep in mind that service in the U.S. military has always been one path to citizenship.

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Penn wraps up Kumar and heads back to White House

Smoke some weed, eat some White Castle, and then get back to work. Looks like Kal Penn is quietly heading back to the White House:

Kal Penn, former actor of television series “House,” is returning to the White House after fulfilling contract obligations for the third and latest “Harold and Kumar” installment.

The White House recently issued a statement that said Penn, the only successful Indian American actor in Hollywood, has been appointed as the go-to person “for those in the Arts, Youth, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.” [Link]

He will pretty much be doing the same job as before:

Penn is returning to the Office of Public Engagement to work as an associate director, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a statement to ABC News. He will “be the point person for those in the Arts, Youth, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities,” Inouye said. [link]

I wonder if at some point in the future he will quietly return to his old role on House M.D.

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Obama to India: “Pull up a chair”

In case you haven’t heard about the major announcement in India this morning, President Obama has called for India to join the UK, US, France, Russia, and China as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Practically speaking of course, there would need to be a complete overhaul of the UN structure if that were to happen, but this is still a significant announcement and one that will most definitely antagonize China:

Members of Parliament reacted with sustained applause. But neither the president nor his top advisers offered a timetable for how long it would take to reform the council, or specifics about what steps the United States would take to do so. Last month, India won a two-year non-permanent seat on the council, which currently has five permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

But expanding the body will be a complicated endeavor that will require the cooperation of other countries and could easily take years. “This is bound to be a very difficult process and it’s bound to take a significant amount of time,” William J. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said here…

“In Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging,” Mr. Obama said in his speech, echoing a line he used earlier in the day at a joint news conference with Mr. Singh. “India has emerged.”

Many Indian officials had worried that the Obama administration was less interested in India than China, and that the bilateral relationship was lacking a “big idea,” such as the landmark civilian nuclear agreement between the two countries under former President George W. Bush. [link]

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