## Sunday, July 29, 2012

### barely mathematical: a designer stool.

at first i was excited because i thought it was an isocahedron, but then i took a closer look and realised i was wrong.

"wooden gem stool" from edition x,
an australian concept store / gallery.

oh well: it remains an interesting object.
i wouldn't choose to own one, though.

as for why: it appears to be made of solid wood, and would likely be a pain to pack and ship, once i move house again. \-:

### article post (math ed): in which i rant for a bit.

so i ran into an article titled "Is Algebra Necessary?" in the new york times, just now. the author writes, among other things:
Algebraic algorithms underpin animated movies, investment strategies and airline ticket prices. And we need people to understand how those things work and to advance our frontiers.

Being able to detect and identify ideology at work behind the numbers is of obvious use. Ours is fast becoming a statistical age, which raises the bar for informed citizenship. What is needed is not textbook formulas but greater understanding of where various numbers come from, and what they actually convey.
so based from this paragraph, you'd think that this article would be a defense in favor of mathematics and a critique of the american educational system .. but there's more:
This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources ..

## Wednesday, July 25, 2012

### on why i am weird with $\LaTeX$.

i suspect that i am widely misunderstood. it's either that, or it's just that i unconsciously make life harder for myself.

for instance, i try to avoid discussions about $\LaTeX$, because inevitably ..

.. when they ask me if i use winedt or texshop, i tell them that my laptop runs (ubuntu) linux;

.. and when they ask what program i use, i tell them that i just use a text editor like gedit, which comes standard with many (most?) linux distros [1].

.. and when they ask me how i compile my LaTeX, i tell them that i open up a terminal and type [2]:

> latex myfile.tex && dvipdf myfile.dvi

.. and when they ask me how i find errors, and in particular the line containing it, i tell them that the "find" command is usually Ctrl-F.
..
.. and eventually, exasperated, they just ask: why the hell would you do all of that? so i tell them that, one summer long ago,
i didn't live in an apartment with air conditioning, but the public library had it, so i spent a lot of time there;

i didn't own a working laptop [3], yet the same library had desktops available for the public, so i used theirs.

they didn't have any $\LaTeX$ programs, they didn't allow users to download and install software .. but on Windows, PuTTY is a single executable file and never identified as anything other than a generic download, and i had access to a server where i could run latex remotely ..
so i spent a summer at the public library, with three PuTTY windows and one Adobe window open:
1. one for pico, a text-based text editor,
2. one for sftp, so that i could transfer the pdf output after each compile,
3. one, ready and waiting for when i'd send the in-line latex commands remotely.
as for the Adobe window, i needed to view the pdf somehow ..

[shrugs]

put another way, i use gedit because it's easier than pico.

left: gedit, which is clickable; right: pico, purely text-based

honestly, it was a fine way to spend a summer.

whenever i had something to type up, i'd go to my neighborhood public library, code until my allotted time was up, and either work on the details on paper or read graphic novels for a little while. when i was eligible for another time slot, i'd continue coding.

doing so had its perks: for one thing, breaks were automatic. i also met a lot of librarians, whom i found very cool people. i was young and maths was new to me, and there was the passingly-real possibility that i could make a living from it .. (-:

[1] it's actually a pretty robust program, and probably designed with coders in mind. it even changes the color of words, depending on command type. i've heard good things about texmaker, though, but i haven't gotten around to trying it.

[2] as for why not just a pdflatex command, i have a one-word answer for you: pstricks ..

[3] i didn't have much summer funding at the time, and the laptop that i wanted cost more than one month's rent. the prospect of being wired but homeless didn't exactly appeal to me.

## Monday, July 23, 2012

### mildly mathematical: sometimes an X is not an X.

a colleague of mine shared this link earlier, and i think it's worth passing along. though this video is 4min long, be warned:

once you reach the main TED website,
there might be no coming back for a while,
as there are so many fine talks to hear ..

### Terry Moore: Why is 'x' the unknown? (a TED talk)

Why is 'x' the symbol for an unknown? In this short and funny talk, Terry Moore gives the surprising answer.

Terry Moore is the director of the Radius Foundation, a forum for exploring and gaining insight from different worldviews.

in other news, i'm still embedded in re-writing this preprint. there's light at the end of the tunnel .. but it's still slow going.

## Friday, July 20, 2012

### mildly relevant: a mathematician reads the (actual) newspaper.

in light of some new developments, i'm currently embedded in the job of re-writing this preprint. as a result, i haven't had much time for idle thoughts about the mathematician's life.

to be fair, though: i did take a break today to go and watch the dark knight rises, which came out today [1].

it did the trick:
i was completely distracted me from maths for .. 2 hours, 40+ minutes [2].

so until i can put two sentences together about mathematics again, here are some sentences of others that i've stumbled upon recently ..

from "why johnny can't add without a calculator" @ slate:
Maybe one day software will be smart enough to be useful, but that day won’t be any time soon, for two reasons. The first is that education, especially of children, is as much an emotional process as an imparting of knowledge—there is no technological substitute for a teacher who cares. The second is that education is poorly structured. Technology is bad at dealing with poorly structured concepts [1]. One question leads to another leads to another, and the rigid structure of computer software has no way of dealing with this. Software is especially bad for smart kids, who are held back by its inflexibility.
despite my acceptance of listening and giving beamer-style talks at seminars and conferences, this is exactly why i'm not especially fond of them ..

from "the psychology of discounting: something doesn't add up" @ the economist:
A team of researchers, led by Akshay Rao of the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, looked at consumers' attitudes to discounting. Shoppers, they found, much prefer getting something extra free to getting something cheaper. The main reason is that most people are useless at fractions..

Consumers often struggle to realise, for example, that a 50% increase in quantity is the same as a 33% discount in price. They overwhelmingly assume the former is better value.
admittedly, i don't think that hard while shopping. most of the time, i'm just glad that something that i would actually buy would be on sale.

from "scientific publishing: brought to book" @ the economist (again):
There is a widespread feeling that the journal publishers who have mediated this exchange for the past century or more are becoming an impediment to it. One of the latest converts is the British government. On July 16th it announced that, from 2013, the results of taxpayer-financed research would be available, free and online, for anyone to read and redistribute.

## Thursday, July 12, 2012

### code, compile, repeat.

no matter how many times i print out another version of the preprint, the same amount of red ink spills on the pages.
i see bad, inconsistent uses of notation .. probably due to having written large chunks of it, at different times.

sometimes constants are missing along a series of estimates .. which doesn't matter in the end, but it makes proofs hard to follow.
sometimes i realise that entire lemmata are unnecessary. it's the consequence of the ugly, first version of proofs i wrote, months ago.
at the time i was content that they simply "worked" .. that i even had a proof!

now the standards are higher: now that i know they are true, i want them to be readable and contain little more than clear, basic ideas glued together by rigor.

sure, it's aesthetics, but there's another point: the clearer the proof, the easier the job for the referee. in maths, the journal submission process is already so long that anything that can speed up the process is advisable.
i feel like some kind of analog compiler: being given source code in the form of LaTeX, all i seem to do is spit out errors and warnings.

i hope that this procedure halts, eventually!

odd: the preprint is 15 pages long, but there are 29 references cited and they take up a full page. i guess i'm overly optimistic, in that i believe: if i cite others appropriately, then maybe they'll do the same for me ..

## Tuesday, July 10, 2012

### i might read humε again, but this time, i'll stick to his mathematical works.

holy crap: the rumors of david humε's death in 1776 has been greatly exaggerated;
it turns out that he is actually alive and well!
moreover, he's given up philοsophical empiricism in favor of geοmetric grοup theory, which seems like a fine choice to me;

a few of his preprints are on the arXiv, in fact.
yeah, yeah, i know: he probably gets this a lot,
much like how guy davιd is often confused for .. well, guy davιd.

## Monday, July 09, 2012

### off the plane, back to work.

so july is the holiday month in finland, or rather: the vacation month.

if i remember correctly what my friends told me,
the finnish government guarantees 4 weeks of paid time off.

having chosen to go to the office today, after a long hiatus, i feel a little like the pixar character wall·e, methodically puttering around and arranging things in an abandoned world ..

.. with the hope that, over enough time and effort, a larger order appears. [1]

(images borrowed from jusco's reviews and from the random independent, respectively.)

today, in particular, felt inconsequential. i almost wrote an introduction to an upcoming preprint .. the important word being almost.

at some point, i felt like the background lacked depth, so i kept clicking links on mathscinet to references in the literature. more information has to make it better, right ..?

[sighs]

i should have just written something quick and dirty, printed it out, and leaving the office for the sunshine, edited it into something better. (one of these days i'll buy a printer for my own use.)

i'm back at home from the conference(s) to settle into peace and quiet. there's a long stretch of time for me to get back to my life, finish some tasks that i've been putting off ..

.. like writing mathscinet reviews,
doing my part in a few collaborations, both very overdue tasks. \-:

call it egoism, but i'm most excited to finish off this one project. the preprint is almost ready. it almost reads like one.
the more i think about it, though, the less significant the result becomes .. but ultimately that doesn't matter too much:

i just want it to take a particular shape,
have it capture something that i intend,
make clear what is really essential in these phenomena.
after traveling and seeing friends, i guess i'm glad to get back to work .. because this is the fun, creative kind of work. (-:

[1] yes, the fact that wall e is making structures out of trash is not lost on me. sometimes my results do come out of a mess and assembled from the theoretical scraps of others. i prefer to compare it to forming diamonds from coal, myself.

## Friday, July 06, 2012

### another conference, day 5: disappointment.

so i learned some bad news yesterday:

..!
*sighs*

maybe i should have known better,
having been aware that he has done this kind of thing before;

maybe, though, there's a good reason.

there were other talks that i was looking forward to, but .. this was the one talk that i was truly, truly anticipating and among the main reasons why i chose to attend this conference.

of course, he cancels .. while the conference is in progress!

## Wednesday, July 04, 2012

### another conference, day 3: mostly photos.

being a conference of close to 1000 participants, i was expecting every square centimeter of the host building to be occupied .. but i was pleasantly wrong.

in particular, the fourth floor is almost always empty, even though you can hear the remaining three floors quite well (and in fact, observe the crowds from a height).

when i think about it, though, it makes sense: no coffee is served on the fourth floor! (-:
on a more serious note: despite encountering old friends and making new acquaintances here, i'm getting a little tired of people. there's not a lot of solitude made convenient to conference participants .. at least, not without heading far away from the conference venue.

then again, the whole point of a conference is to meet up and talk with colleagues, whether it's discussing research or simply sharing information or experiences about the life of working mathematicians! so i guess i've just not gotten into the conference mood yet ..

.. and knowing my luck, by the time that i will, the conference will be over .. \-:
lastly, a few photos from the book display center: among other things, apparently elsevier is trying to restore its good name.

## Tuesday, July 03, 2012

### another conference, day 2: breaking bad habits.

this sounds like sacrilege, but i'm considering switching from coffee to tea .. at least for conference afternoons.

the trouble is that patience wears thin, after a few talks, so coffee breaks become highly valued.  when walking out of the lecture room and immediately seeing the coffee urns and cookies .. one thing simply leads to another.

## Monday, July 02, 2012

### another conference, day 1: first impressions.

so i'm currently in krakow, attending the ecm (european congress of mathematicians) and i must say, the meeting is big enough to .. confusing.

fool that i was, i registered just the day before the conference .. and are among the "unregistered" badge-less few. on the other hand, i'm not 300€ poorer yet .. (-:

on the plus side, though ..
• there's (decent) coffee everywhere and it's even served in cups and saucers.
• at the various book stands, i got a free issue of revista, as well as a free calendar.
(more thoughts to come ..)