Today in Indian History

by Sahaj Sankaran (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun)

I'm Sahaj Sankaran, winner of Yale’s South Asian Studies Prize and Diane Kaplan Memorial Prize for my historical research, and this is Today in Indian History. Four days a week, I'll dig into the context and consequences of an event in India's history that happened on that date. I'll walk you through what happened, what the world around looked like at the time, and how it shaped the India we live in today.

Snippet from July 5, 2020: The First Indian Submarine Arrives

On 5 July, 1968, the Indian submarine INS Kalvari sailed into the dock at Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam. The submarine had undergone a long voyage from the port at Riga, Latvia (then in the Soviet Union) when it arrived in India…

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with Soham Sankaran (twice monthly)

Computer Science is composed of many different areas of research, such as Algorithms, Programming Languages, and Cryptography. Each of these areas has its own problems of interest, publications of record, idioms of communication, and styles of thought.

Segfault is a podcast series that serves as a map of the field, with each episode featuring discussions about the core motivations, ideas and methods of one particular area, with a mix of academics ranging from first year graduate students to long tenured professors.

I’m your host, Soham Sankaran, the founder of Pashi, a start-up building software for manufacturing. I'm on leave from the PhD program in Computer Science at Cornell, where I work on distributed systems and robotics, and I started Segfault to be the guide to CS research that I desperately wanted when I was just starting out in the field.

Audio from Episode 1: Programming Languages
Featuring Adrian Sampson, Alexa VanHattum, and Rachit Nigam of Cornell's CAPRA group.

Rachit Nigam: PL people, at least in my eyes, don’t do work in isolation or shouldn’t do work in isolation. They should go to a field, for example, in our group we do architecture and hardware abstractions, so we go into a field and we figure out what the abstractions really mean. If you have functions, right – people have had functions for a really long time in every language, but the meaning of functions is not well understood and PL people have been trying to formalise functions for a really long time – understanding them allows you to build more powerful abstractions and think about what your programs really mean. I keep saying ‘what programs really mean’ and I really want to stress this point because once you know what programs really mean, you can do all sorts of cool things like verifying the programs and trying to automagically synthesize parts of your program. But to do any of that, you have to understand what your programs mean, and I think that’s what PL people do fundamentally. They go to a field – they can go to networking, they can go to security, or they can go to architecture – and they can pick a language and figure out what the language is actually trying to say and what ideas it tries to capture.

Soham Sankaran: I see. So in a caricatured way, what you’re doing is going to people and saying ‘Ah! I see what you’re doing but there’s a broader organizational principle to what you could be doing that we can demonstrate to you’.

Rachit Nigam: I think, when you can successfully do it, you can really change fields. I think a lot of, like if you look at the history of computing, it’s a history of languages. When you can really express the languages, you can really express the ideas, and you can build bigger and better stuff quickly. I think you can do it, it’s just hard…

Soham Sankaran’s Y Combinator-backed startup, Pashi, is recruiting a software engineer to do research-adjacent work in programming languages and compilers. If you’re interested, email soham [at] for more information.

Read the full transcript and show notes

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Kernels of Truth

by Ethan Weinberger (Thurs)

I'm Ethan Weinberger. After a brief stint in the hedge fund world I'm now a Ph.D student in machine learning at the University of Washington.

The world of AI has had some real breakthroughs mixed with massive amounts of cash and wildly speculative claims - a perfect recipe for BS. Kernels of Truth takes a deep dive into recent work in the field to determine whether reality matches up with the hype.

Snippet from June 25, 2020: In AI, Money & Attention Are All You Need

The invention of Transformer models has turned out to be one of the most influential developments in recent machine learning history. Transformers are designed to excel at problems involving human language, such as translating between two languages or summarizing long articles into single paragraphs. While previous deep learning models performed far better than classical, non-deep models at such tasks, they still struggled when presented with long sentences with complex structure…

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What is Honesty Is Best?

We find ourselves living in interesting times. This is a moment of great pain, incredible uncertainty, and collapsing realities — fertile soil for new ideas, new paths, and new institutions. Honesty Is Best brings people together to think about how we got here and to explore what we should do next in order to build a fundamentally better world on the uneven foundations upon which we are perched.

We will play host to a number of regular series about technology, policy, and culture spanning writing, podcasts, and video. Each of these series will be written or anchored by one or two people working actively in the specific area the series is about. The distinct style of each series will reflect that of its creators, with the common threads being a focus on concrete ideas and a commitment to telling the unvarnished truth as they see it.

We invite to explore and subscribe to our three current offerings:

Today in Indian History, a four-times weekly series about the context and consequences of events in India’s past written by Sahaj Sankaran, winner of Yale’s South Asian Studies Prize and Diane Kaplan Memorial Prize for his work in Indian history

Segfault, a twice-monthly podcast about Computer Science research hosted by Soham Sankaran, the founder of Pashi and a PhD student in Computer Science at Cornell

Kernels of Truth, a weekly series taking a deeper dive into recent hyped-up developments in artificial intelligence by Ethan Weinberger, a PhD student in machine learning at the University of Washington.

Take a look at some recent work from Honesty Is Best, or subscribe via email for updates from all our series below: