## Sending out an SOS

I know that no one reads this blog, but I feel obligated to inform all who might help, at least by signing the petition, that the situation at VU University Amsterdam’s Mathematical department isn’t very bright, as one can read in Tilman Bauer’s post on MathOverflow – Geometry section is about to be closed.

I haven’t signed the petition – I would feel too uncomfortable having my name and laughable title next to all the professors listed there.

I am sure many applied mathematicians share my opinion – both applied and pure mathematics have their place in the spectrum. Cutting the budget for pure mathematics (I can already hear the arguments: they are not productive, useful, blahblahblah) means shortsightedness.

## How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Title of this post is the subtitle of Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick’s 1964 movie) and it has a twofold symbolical meaning related to the theme of my post (only the one of those meanings will be revealed in the post, though).

Recently I got an idea (during a stroll) for my next year’s Mobile Robotics class project. One thing led to another – and I got an idea for my master’s thesis. It was a bit strange – I always thought my thesis will be something theoretical and closely related to mathematics, like the bachelor’s thesis I wrote. It looked to me like I finally learned to stop worrying (about my love for mathematics) and love the bomb (bomb being engineering in this metaphor).

Few days after, I’m still up for that project – but I don’t want it to be my thesis in the end – it’s a matter of principles, I guess – I want mathematics.

## Counting the piano tuners – the hard way.

No, Enrico Fermi and his questions weren’t my inspiration for this post – it was Stan Ulam’s quote I read few days ago:

Knowing what is big and what is small is more important than being able to solve partial differential equations.

That is exactly what an engineering student (or an applied mathematics student) needs: sense of reality. One needs to know what parameters of dynamic systems are normal, natural, what is the magnitude of results, what is negligible in calculations. Making fast estimates, estimating the accuracy of such estimates – knowing what accuracy is needed for certain calculations: it saves money, nerves, trees and shows intelligence. One could start with that in a calculus course, where problems concerning integral estimates (using MVT or some known inequalities for instance) could be given. After that – let the student take a course like the one on MIT called Street-fighting matematics. Without that, you can’t expect your students to make an estimate of the number of piano tuners in Chicago – they’ll do a brute-force search through the phonebook.

But hey, no one in charge of making the curricula will ever think of something like this – they managed to squeeze out probability theory, statistics, stochastic processes, numerical methods out of control theory students’ curriculum – enough said.

Still – Mark Twain was right:

Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.

## Hair in the book

There is a common joke in my country:

*Q: Why aren’t you studying for your exams?*

*A: I can’t. I found a hair in my book and now I can’t open the book anymore because of the disgust.*

I had a very similar experience few days ago while solving problems from the competition I mentioned earlier. From the very beginning, I tolerated poor English, wrong problem statements, but that day I found out that one of the problems in the list was *trivial. *It required absolutely no imagination, knowledge or idea whatsoever. Combined with an ad hominem argument I found out about the competition’s organizer, it made me close my notebook and toss the problem set in the wastebasket. I know it is silly, but it seemed to me that one trivial problem spoiled it all to me – now I would seek for triviality in every other problem – challenge would be ruined for good.

## The ninth art

I consider myself a comic book fan – although I’m not a collector anymore. Every now and then I choose something new – last time it was The Five Fists of Science, and now it’s Logicomix. While the former was an interesting read and nothing more, the latter one (which I read after recommendation from a friend) has been both an interesting read and a form of inspiration.

As you might recall, I wrote an SF story which has been rejected by the publishers. Personally, I’m extremely satisfied with its content, but its form seems too unnatural. After reading Logicomix, I realized that my story is meant to be a graphic novel! Now I just need an artist to help me do this – since I can’t draw a same face twice, which makes me a lousy comic book artist.

I’m aware that this story will not be the next bestseller as Logicomix was – but being a bestselling author is not my goal – I just want to tell the story.