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Archive for November, 2010

NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery; Science Journal Has Embargoed Details Until 2 p.m. EST On Dec. 2

November 30, 2010 2 comments

... but I won't get a proof on Thursday, will I?

What a lovely and intriguing title. Mathematicians should learn from the astrophysicists and other astropeople at NASA when it comes to advertisement. Surely, nothing revolutionary  is going to be announced at the NASA HQ (at least that is my experience with NASA announcements), but they made people ask questions, speculate and wonder. I guess it’s not the language they use when announcing their conferences, it’s the great expectations people have when it comes to space and NASA…

Pardon my scepticism.

P.S. You can enjoy the speculations on redditPhil Plait refuses to speculate, but he gives an interesting insight to it, both on his blog and reddit.

Categories: Science in general

Mental note: avoid small web communities

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This might be extremely subjective, but I cannot help it: one of the StackExchange forums annoyed me. I’m a regular at MathOverflow and I got used to the atmosphere there, so I started browsing other “Overflow” and StackExchange forums. One caught my eye, and I decided to stay for a while. What a bad decision. Its community being exactly ten times smaller than the MathOverflow’s, they cocooned in their own world, solving people’s homework and discussing trivial things. I don’t mind that – I posted a nice soft question, quite similar in nature to three or four excellent community wiki soft questions made on MathOverflow (actually, dealing with the exactly the same topic, but ‘translated’ in the language of the science this SE site promotes). First reply was: bad question, vote to close. OK, I can handle that, but stop acting like hypocrites, guys. Closing questions with some value to a community, and leaving homework questions? For God’s sake, is there a strategy behind this policy?

XKCD

That SE is somewhere in the bottom part of the scale

Now, why is this brilliant XKCD comic here? Because I seem to past the mathematicians’ purity test (and they are way right on that scale), and I can’t satisfy it in a community lower on the scale? Now that’s something I should think about – or maybe not.

P.S. I deleted the question. You may call me an easy quitter, if you want.

PhD: home vs abroad

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Every now and then I reconsider my options for obtaining PhD degree in my home country and obtaining it abroad. As one could expect, the PhD program on my home institution is not what I would like to go through – even if we ignore the fact that I don’t want a PhD in engineering, it leaves an opportunity of changing the institution, staying in the same university – but the cost/utility ratio is extremely unfavorable in each case. Neighboring countries offer better PhD programs and the price is lower. I understand our principles, though – whoever enrolls these programs here, (s)he already secures the title in 3-4 years. Maybe I am being just bitter, but on one hand you have very expensive programs in your home country with no scholarship opportunities, and on the other hand there are excellent programs abroad, in the West – they cost much, but the scholarships earned thanks to academic excellence (I wonder whether our Minister of Education knows what that is?) and the fact that you work as a TA or an RA at the institution make it quite easy to cover all expenses. What would you choose?

Few random updates

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

1. The TA with wrong exam problems graded the tests: I’m not sure how did he do it, but results seem fairly fair.

2. I dropped the idea of writing about trivial stuff in CS.

3. The idea about writing quantum love story triggered more than a few other ideas for short stories!

Categories: Vignette

Writing Science Fiction, Flatland style

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Few years ago, I wrote a short story about mathematical analysis – no, it was not a research paper, or a survey article, it was an SF parody, written in Flatland style.

Flatland cover

Flatland cover

When I write ‘normal’ fiction – Borges and Kiš are my role models: short stories with fiction packed like facts, stories composed out of made-up excerpts from other people’s stories (those other people are made up as well). I enjoy that kind of literature – both reading and writing it (although I am very well aware of the fact that my writing is not worth much).

On the other hand, when I write ‘mathematical fiction’, stories using the argot and spirit of mathematics and taking place inside mathematical concepts and terms, mathematics come first, style comes second. Still, I think I might get some Borgesian spirit in them – knowing how Borges promoted mathematical concepts (infinity, convergence, chance, randomness, geometry), it would be most appropriate!

Long story short – there is an idea for a new story, proposed to me by a colleague TA: quantum mechanics love story!

Categories: Scientific Writing

Writing about trivial stuff

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

When a man gets a few days off to spend in bed, fighting with flu – it is always a chance for his thoughts to go wild. This time I lassoed the thoughts with my favourite knot theory book (pun very much intended). Still, after going through all knot invariants known to mankind thoughts wandered and I ended up reading a C code of a standard, simple program written by a freshman at my institution for homework – and the implementation of certain procedures in it gave me an idea for a paper. Two obstacles are in my way (not counting the iron gate – “open the gate” will solve that one):

1. It is nowhere near my area of interest and expertise. That is almost an advantage, and not an obstacle – it could make a fine excursion in a brave new world of Comp. Sci.

2. The topic, implementation and results are almost trivial – interesting, but still trivial. But hey, someone has to write about those things too.

If there is nothing serious to handle, trivialities keep the brain young…

Categories: Scientific Writing

Latent fascism in education?

November 17, 2010 1 comment

Holidays are the time when I watch TV, read the newspaper more, surf on the web. That practice always takes me to the edge of my nerves, since I hear, read and see enormous stupidity and ignorance – OK, I see it during the workday too, but it is kind of different when it comes from so-called experts, so-called free media, etc. I will not write about the fact that in every news block, there are at least three pronunciation or spelling errors, I will not write about the horrible accent and language the news anchors and talk show hosts use – I will write about the same old story told by our university professors, politicians, journalists and all other ‘experts’ featuring on the national TV in prime-time. It is the story about our students abroad – how they are always brighter than the locals, how they skip grades, make careers, live the American dream (or, more often, the West European dream) because of their cleverness, intelligence and knowledge. It is told for both the people who go abroad after finishing elementary or high school here, and the people whose entire education took place abroad.

While in the first case the ‘experts’ telling the story might imply that the success made by ‘our people’ is a consequence of the curriculum through which the students went through before they left the country, the second case implies some kind of genetic intellectual superiority –  how convenient, and how fascist.

If we are so brilliant, so talented, and if our curricula are so good – why is our education rated as the worst on the continent? Why is our scientific, technological, and every other development stuck? Why do we enjoy lying to ourselves, feeding our national ego with success stories of individuals?