Essays — Arvind Narayanan

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A selection of essays from my journal, listed newest first. The vast majority of these are about general topics and are not technical.

Where Are All the Funny Ladies?
Pondering the gender gap in stand-up comedy.

When Half My Brain Woke Up
A blow-by-blow account of an episode at the boundary of consciousness.

A Cheap and Simple Standing Desk Setup for Easy Sit/stand Alternation
Now that standing desks have officially become cool, I'd like to share some tips.

The New Scientific Revolution
We're seeing a spectacular land-grab by science and empiricism from other domains of knowledge and understanding such as philosophy and religion.

StumbleUpon Considered Harmful
The architecture of StumbleUpon is fundamentally exploitative of the quid-pro-quo nature of free websites.

Tupper’s Self-Referential Formula Debunked
In this technical post, I explain why a commonly cited magical-looking formula isn't what it appears to be.

There's Only One Type of Immigrant
The accepted wisdom about the relationship between math/science education, tech jobs and immigration is exactly backwards.

Productivity and Performance Hacks
In the last few years I've adopted several behavioral 'hacks' that have been life-changing.

Observations From Chennai
I see snapshots of my hometown, Chennai, once every 2-3 years. The changes are always stunning.

American Nerd
I find the stigmatization of 'nerdy' behavior in America only slightly less morally repugnant than racism or sexism.

A Fateful Dodgeball Game
A nostalgic look at my years as a chess-playing tween.

Is Chess With Queen Odds a Provable Win?
A somewhat technical post arguing that the much-publicized and celebrated victory of IBM's Deep Blue over Kasparov in 1997 was acutally a tragedy for game-playing research.

A Western Fantasy
It confuses and annoys me that people in rich countries often romanticize the tribal life.

My Medical System Horror Story
Even as a relatively healthy young adult, I've had many horror stories in my brushes with the medical system during my few years in America.

Remember When Being a Geek Meant Something?
I reflect on the dramatic changes in the social and economic status of computer geeks in the last couple of decades.

The Anatomy of a Privacy Meme
The mystifying power that tiny strings of text have over masses of intelligent people is what makes memes a fascinating object of study for researchers and a salivating prospect for marketers.

The Death of the Printed Book Is Closer Than You Think
In this late-2009 essay, I predict that e-books will "take over soon." I'd like to see how my claim fares over time.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
I often marvel at the human capacity for self-deception, one aspect of which is the fact that people often haven't a clue what they really believe.

We Are Still a Society of Nature-worshippers
Nature's designs are riddled with inefficiencies, bugs and tortuous mechanisms at every level of complexity.

Bioinformatics Needs to Be Democratized
There is a huge community of hackers who would like to play with genetic data, but it is difficult to get started.

The Future of Jobs
I look forward to a future where all menial jobs will be automated.

Mathematicians Don't Understand People?
What a famous puzzle tells us about mathematicians and regular people.

Losing My Traffic Ticket Virginity — Not Fun at All, but at Least I'll Remember It
As I bumble carelessly through life, I often get myself into serious trouble. This one was a near-miss.

Search on Romanized Indic Text Is Broken. This Is a Billion Dollar Opportunity
A billion Indian people are rapidly getting online; it's about time someone made the world better and enriched themselves at the same time.

Supermodels and Curves (Of an Entirely Different Kind)
A surprising power-law observation.

Lessons From the Failure of Livejournal: When NOT to Listen to Your Users
The interests of a web service and those of its users are often misaligned.

Traditional Media Is Going to Die
The BBC's online news coverage is a perfect example of a news organization doing pretty much everything wrong.

Why Are Tourists Stupid?
From the top of the Columbia Center in Seattle, the vaunted Space Needle looks like a runt.

Ph.D and Weight Training
The best thing you can do at the start of a Ph.D program is take up weight training.

The Spicy Food Law
There is a simple relationship between geography and spiciness of traditional cuisine.

The factors that wiped out hitchhiking culture in America in the 70s are now mostly gone. Can hitchhiking make a comeback in hi-tech form?

Vegetarianism in India
There is some truth to calling India a "vegetarian country," even though the percentage of vegetarians is not very high.

Netflix: The Back-story
Any number of data privacy researchers could have written the Netflix de-anonymization paper. This is the story of how my coauthor and I happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Respect the Turing Test
Those who deny that the Turing Test is a test of "true" machine intelligence are deeply wrong.

This Tiger Don't Burn So Bright
One of my frequent encounters with the absurdity of the US healthcare system.

The Calculus of Caffeine Consumption
I consider this one of the most important essays I've written. It describes my analytical approach to caffeine which has had a dramatic impact on my productivity.

On Proof
Read this if you've ever wondered why mathematicians write horribly abstruse papers, vapid and rigorous.

Why Math?
When you learn math, what you really learn is an art that mathematicians call abstraction.

Tic Tac Toe for Adults — the Emperor Has No Clothes!
I expose an entire series of peer-reviewed papers on board games that all contain the same elementary blunder.

Sanskrit Words in English
What Sanskrit words that have found their way into English tell us about the Western world.