Monday, April 26, 2010

In computer science community, disambiguation refers to the problem of identifying the correct meaning (usage sense) of a word in a sentence. Recently, in search engines, it is studied in the context of understanding the correct meaning of a user query entered in a search box. E.g. if a query is "Avatar", what does the user mean? Is it the latest James Cameron movie - Avatar (hell ya!) or does he mean the hit Nickelodeon animation series Avatar: The Last Airbender or does he mean the deliberate descent of a human deity from heaven to earth as per the Hindu religion.

Disambiguation is a hard problem, mainly because (a) English is a crazy language (b) we have abused it. Here is a taste of it!

Blame English!

(a) English is a silly language - [Borrowed from a poem. Read its full text here ]
There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; Neither apple nor pine in pineapple. And while no one knows what is a hotdog, You can be pretty sure it isn't canine. English muffins were not invented in England Nor French-fries in France.
(b) Round and round - As per the Oxford dictionary, for the 500 words used most frequently, each word has an average of 23 different meanings. The word "round" has 70 distinct meanings and usage. Often it is the context that helps in figuring out the correct meaning of a word. Thus, in order to disambiguate a word, the entire context has to be clear.

(c) Paradoxes - Consider Liar's paradox which is a perfectly correct statement but logicallly impossible - "This sentence is false" . Or the classic Socrates' quote - "As for me, all i know is that i know nothing". Then, there are also oxymorons such as "silent scream" and "clearly misunderstood". Researchers have tried to apply natural language processing techniques to understand the context but these paradoxes make this approach extremely difficult.

(d) Other - There are many other such constructs in english language for example Amphibology, Double entendre, polysemy and the list goes on.

Language Abuse!

(a) Anarchy - There is complete anarchy when it comes to naming names and titles. There still does not exists any rule or regulation, not even a guideline on how to go about naming titles. Otherwise, who in the correct frame of mind would make a movie about Harvey Milk but would name it just Milk. Isn't there already enough confusion between different meanings of the word milk - Milk (food), soy milk, coconut milk, Milk(band), Milk magazine ....

(b) Timeliness / popularity - We are a very lazy species. For the search Harry Potter, the meaning of the query changes depending upon what's happening around the world. If J.K. Rowling publishes another book, we want that and if a new movie based on an earlier book comes out, we want the movie information. But never we would write beyond "Harry Potter". We expect the search engine to have learnt the magic of legilimency .

(c) Duh! isn't it obvious - For the 95% of the world, there is only one "San Francisco" in the world and it is in California, USA. But as per this wikipedia page, there are 27 different places on this planet, each named San Francisco. How to determine if you belong to the 95% bucket or which one of the other 26 meanings do you care about?

Such is the extent of our abuse that even the term disambiguation is ambiguous. There is a disambiguation page on wikipedia just to disambiguate disambiguation. Don't believe me? Check it out yourself-

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shashank Subramaniam and Shahid Parvez Jhan Concert

I attended the above concert on April 9 at Milpitas. It was a jugalbandi of flute and sitar played by Shashank Subramaniam and Shahid Parvez khan respectively. Sitar is so sweet, it just always brings happiness whenever you listen to it. Sitar can never bring sadness, even in its worst it brings viraha - a sense of longing which is again joyous as per me. I somehow had not been able to get much respect for flute as an instrument so far. Pt. HPC did manage to give me the meditative nature of flute and how difficult it is to play it but its been a long time. Due to this , i did not enjoy Shashank's performance as much as i liked Ust. Parvez jis. But overall i liked the concert a lot. In particluar the 50 min Alaap was very very good.

Also, i do not like the way Jugalbandis are done (again my opinion). After some time, they all devolve to how fast one can play a note or a combination of notes which to me destroys the purpose. Music to me is there to be enjoyed to savored and speed is the last thing that matters to me. After the first raag, the following ones quickly devolved to speediness of instrument playing. It was not too bad, just that i would have liked to have one more full composition instead.

There was a tabla accompanying sitar and mrindangam accompanying flute. Sometime they interchanged and mridangam was accompanying sitar and tabla to flute. It was good to hear the contrasting sounds of both percussion instruments. I think i realized that i like tabla sounds better than mridangam, but as with my other views, it may change going fwd :)

To kill a mocking bird

Last weekend, i went to see a play based on the book "To kill a mocking bird". The book is one of my favourite books. The book is great because (a) the story is very good (b) nice depiction of a southern state (c) its a court room drama in some sense and i love court room dramas, but the main reason i love this book is because of its main characters - Atticus, Jean Scott and their relationship. The way the kids call Atticus by his name, the innocence of children, Boo Radley, the neighbor etc and all this makes it a very touching book with a lot of meaning implied in between the lines.

There has also been a movie on the book with Gregory Peck in lead and boy! i love his portrayal of Atticus Finch. He is able to emit that charisma, the sincerity and the affection all so subtly that he is just amazing to watch. Overall the movie is a very good one to watch and in my opinion it is able to carry over the book's narrative and feel to the screen and justifies the book.

I watched the play at mvcpa and was done by Theatre works - . Frankly, i was disappointed by the play. I do not think that it was a bad play by any means but it just exposed the limitations of a theatre. Also, after Gregory Peck's depiction anyone trying to play Atticus Finch had to cover a lot and sadly the play's Atticus felt a lot below my expectations. But it was very interesting to compare the play with the movie. In movies, there is the power of close ups, to capture raw human facial emotion at such a close distance, there is also editing where you can cut a big scene into small ones, making it go faster yet maintaining continuity, the play misses on both the counts. And also the southern accent of actors was a little too much for me to understand. For example the dog shooting scene in the book throws new light on to Atticus and it does so in the movie at all but in the play, we are unable to grasp its affect, the acting of children can not do that much justice. It could also be the fact that i was sitting in balcony (cheaper ) seats and may have missed the fine grained expressions. Yet the good thing about this story is that no matter what happens, the ending is so powerful that it moved me in the play as well. Boo Radley did a great job. The good thing about the play was how cleverly you can use the same stage space to show the different scenes of story and i think the play did quite a good job at this.

As i write this, i think i will have to watch the movie again :)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Life in Feb 28 to April 4

Hazarron khwaishein aisi ke har khwaish pe dum nikle :)

Just reminding myself what it means.
Overall the bigger stories were covered in individual posts in the duration. This time frame was dedicated to Garrison Keillor.

Here are the rest -

Went to Muir beach, point reyes with uncleji and buaji. Drove the first time on crooked street. Good day!

Started working on my hat as part of my knitting. The pattern is called AB1 invented by yours truely. The pattern is going to be unique, no one has ever done it before and no one will do it again. It has mistakes done at such unique places that if anyone tries to copy it, the copier will make mistakes :)

Started to read my law books. Short time left.

Booked tickets to india. Going in june. 60 days from now :). Need to start other formalities too.

Movies - At Tilo's place - Diva (very good), Shawn of the dead (interesting spoof) and Outsourced (sucks). At hall - Athiti tum kab jaoge (horrible), Alice in wonderland (impressive), The joneses (amusing). At home - Dev.D, All the preseident's men (watched again.) Triangle 2009 (actiony interesting).

Went to a live music concert yesterday - Local band called Levitate. interesting ambience.

Work was ever so hectic.

Went for a medical examination. All results are good.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wordplay and Will shortz

Will shortz is the chief editor of puzzles at New york times. He also comes on NPR on Sunday mornings at 7:30 am.
His wikipedia page -
NPR page -

This is why i love NPR so much, I wrote about Garrison Keillor this morning and this is the second post that connects to NPR. Will shortz's puzzles are amazing, what martin gardner did with numbers, Will shortz is doing the same thing with letters and words. Amazing! Directly connected to it is the movie Wordplay which is a documentary on Will shortz and people who solve his crosswords everyday. There is an annual crossword tournament also done every year in Stanford, the movies covers the events and its participants for the year 2004 i think. The movie also covers people who create puzzles, who send them to Will and how Will selects them. The extras on the dvd has various other information such as some intesting puzzles, a short story - waiting for new york times, deleted scenes etc. It is a very well made documentary on a hobby that is always exciting.

I wake up every Sunday morning at 7 am, go to a coffee shop, get my coffee and sit in my car at 7:30 and listen to the puzzle that Mr. Will is going to ask today. Even with my limited knowledge of english, i can answer some of them. There is a joy. I do not get the paper, but otherwise i will also try the crossword but it is too hard and requires a lot of patience. But if i am here and i am 30, i will start that. Under the assumption that ny times exists.

But such are the luxuries of living here - good coffee and a puzzle made by a guy whose official job is to make puzzles :) I have ordered his puzzle books from amazon yesterday. Lets see when they come.

Manufacturing consent

As part of the second reading of my Politically inspired book club, we read Manufacturing consent by Noam Chomsky. We also saw the documentary made with the same title based on interviews with Noam Chomsky.

Manufacturing consent is a book about a thesis by Noam Chomsky saying that how the media follows a propaganda model to steer the public opinion in the direction they want to steer. It states that media coverage is very much influenced by their own interests or interests of the wealthy. The book goes in depth to support this claim by showin many instances where media tried to not cover cases or published lies out rightly in order to hide facts while in other cases, media used extensive coverage/sensationalization to promote its own interests. Examples used are elections in third world countries, vietnam war, coverage of killings of priests in territories which are pro US or anti US.

Here is my take on it - The above all is bad because there is somewhere down, there is an assumption that media is the watchdog of democracy, that media will keep checks and bounds on democracy and will publish facts wherever appropriate. But in reality, media is a big capitalistic enterprise whole sole aim is to make profits for itself and in that process, it will do whatever and not everything will be done in white. If it is profitable to take a nation to war, media will justify its righteousness. If it is profitable to delegitimize a communist govt outside US, media will expose each and every detail of thing that goes wrong.

The book was written in 1988 and by media it mostly means print media and it shows that how all these different media houses are all just renames, in the end they are controlled by 5-6 players only. I didn't read the complete book . I watched the documentary, documentary helped in attaching face to the text of the book but was not helpful beyond that. Documentary highlights the limitation of films in the way that you can not make an argument with all facts in 1 hr. Facts need to be explained, sources attributed, reference checked, tables, stats etc. The documentary can not do that, instead it shows only the conclusions coming from Noam Chomsky and then it shows criticisms based on that. Documentary was made in 1993 i guess, 5 yrs later from book and hence it covers some other material such as Chomsky supporting freedom of rights for a man who said that holocaust never happened.

The meetup link also has some intesting material - At the meetup we discussed relevance of this book in current times, things certainly have gone worse. We also discussed how internet and media in internet changes things, with discussion going to advertising :) One thing that made me curious was the reception of this book by media houses and couldnt't find much info. We also discussed that the level of political activism by a common man in 80s was way higher that what it is now, so we were wondering why is that.

But overall, definitely a book to read. highly recommended!

Garrison Keillor

If somebody asks me, how will you remember March of 2010, the answer would be Garrison Keillor and his radio show Prairie home companion.

Off the few readers of this blog, a few know that i maintain another blog - But i have not been regular at it and infact the last post was done like 6 months ago. But i had an idea in mind, that blog was supposed to be a painting of a place, of a man and of a time. That painting, which was so clear in my head, so vivid in mind but whenever i have tried to put it into words, it was not what i had imagined and thus i never posted it. There are about 15 draft strories that i had tried to write but never managed to . Why am i writing about that here?

Because i have found the guy who understood that concept and he had a similar idea and he has been able to execute on it for the past 25 yrs. His name is Garrison Keillor and his radio show is called Prairie home companion. Lets start with links -
Webpage -
wikipedia -
Amazon page -

I was introduced to the show prairie home companion on NPR at KQED fm Sunday 11am to 1 am by chance while sitting in my car. I loved it. The first that i heard was a skit on Guy Noir and then some odd bits. Coincidentally, i was also in the car the next week and it was an episode about jokes. I was hooked after this one. Researched this show, guy and then wen to my local library and get bunch of audio books. I had no idea what is Prairie home companion by this time, i had no idea who were Lutherans and what this whole fassad was. But after listening to the audio cd - Stories from Lake Wolbegon, i was a big big fan. One must check him out.

His stories are about a small town called Lake Wolbegon and people who live there are called Lutherans - where the women are strong, men good looking and children above average. And his depiction is exactly how i would have liked to depict Ugar, Lutheranism is what Naman represents in my world but my stories, my exaggerations are nothing when compared to him. He understands this genre, he knows how people think and everything about it and what makes it special is that he can make a radio show out of it and his voice can communicate all those emotions. Yes, you read it right, it is a radio show. In the age of television and internet, there is one guy who believes in the power of radio talk shows and has a cult following.

I am onto the second disc collection now. I have ordered his book Good poems from amazon, i have ordered the 25th anniversary collection and i have ordered joke books.

His description of Lake wolbegon and its people is about how life was 30 yrs ago, calm and slow, people knowing each other, a proper small town suburb culture, family values, traditions, religion, a hate for cities :) and an unwillingness to change. The story comes from the day to day lives, common happenings, idiosyncrasies of people, school children pets, exaggerations of daily tasks, how we as humans think. It reminds me so much of growing up in small towns, reminds me of India that used to exist but now is lost. Americans also have a similar feeling and this man is able to paint that picture, that time and he does so beautifully ke kya batoon aapko :)