November 24, 2008

Ha! Pure dumb luck has lead to me being linked to by PZ Myers! Now I’m the 95th fastest growing blog on WordPress. Gotta love pure dumb luck.

He’s tagged me with this meme.
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Technically PeeZed hasn’t done number 5 but I’ll let him off because he has a proper job with fixed hours and yet seems to put it 10 hours solid blogging every day.

So, I’ve done 1 and 2. Now 3.

1. I have trouble pronouncing the letter “r” distinctly but only notice this when I hear recordings of my voice. I find it slightly embarrassing.
2. I am currently somewhat sleep-deprived and compensating with coffee. This may end badly.
3. I made the second round of University Challenge on BBC2 with the team from Nottingham. We lost the second round game to Leeds by the smallest possible margin. I contend that we was robbed.
4. I am the only person I’ve ever met who enjoyed the film “Velvet Goldmine”.
5. I don’t actually have to go work. Unlike postdocs in just about any other subject, who have to put in hours in labs or archives, as a mathematician I can work pretty much any schedule and anywhere provided I can occasionally convince people I’ve proven enough things. I don’t even live commuting distance from my office (mostly; I have digs down there).
6. I am yet to pass a driving test and haven’t taken any lessons in years. I also get claustrophobic on planes. If I could I would take the train everywhere.

Bonus fact: I know nearly no bloggers, even in a “people I know OL” sense.
Thus my esteemed collaborator toomuchcoffeeman gets a tag even though I know for a fact he’s way to busy, notedscholar gets tagged … just because, and the rest go to (more or less all) the people who’ve linked to my posts in the past and who let non-serious business on their blogs : Catsynth, mathmom, Blake Stacey and Reston Kid


Just 2 England first team members still to get injured

November 19, 2008

This is getting silly. I fully expect to hear tomorrow morning that the bit of trouble John Terry was having with his foot has worsened to the point of losing a toe and that team doctors have ruled David James out of the game due to previously undiagnosed old age.

EDIT It’s Wednesday now!? I thought it was Tuesday all day. OK By “tomorrow morning” I meant “in the next 10 minutes”.
EDIT: No they were fine. And YAY England won.

notedscholar- for real?

November 18, 2008

Before yesterday I had never heard of notedscholar but suddenly he’s commenting everywhere I look. First at Gower’s blog, then Pharyngula, then here. His blog Science Defeated is either the most subtle and brilliant satire of maths and science psychoceramics or it … isn’t.

It’s pretty eclectic stuff. One minute he’s supporting deutsche Physik. The next he’s quoting Noam Chomsky (whose worst put down of certain criticisms of “white male science” was that the term reminded him of “deutsche Physik”) as an infallible authority on physics. Then we have suggesting that the mathematicians of Asian civilizations smuggled phony negative numbers into mathematics because they had a “vested interest in the concept” but also attacking the idea that “colour of light” and “colour of a reflective object” are different uses of “colour” as colonialism.

My favourite is this on infinity.

According to math (and also its feisty sidekick, the English language), the number before infinity would be known as the “penultimate” in the series of all numbers. So in my opinion, the last number in the number line is the penultimate.

The author has clearly read at least a little about an awful lot and appears to have developed a fractally wrong understanding of it all. If we then add his rather self-assured assertion that “While the views expressed here are not always representative of academia at large, the views are nevertheless correct” it’s the most fascinatingly odd blog I’ve seen in ages.

So please, comment. Tell me if you think it’s real.

Expat vs. Immigrant

November 17, 2008

I’m English and I live in Portugal. Since it’s very common for researchers to be working in countries other than there homeland, I would usually just define my status as “post doc”. Now, I was looking over things at Facebook (which I had more or less forgotten existed until they sent me an email yesterday) and I noticed they have a lot of expat groups. I have to confess that the word “expat” squicks me. It always brings up thoughts of Eldorado and of rich Brits in the Algarve who’ve lived there a decade and are proud that they have avoided learning any more Portuguese than “por favor” and “obrigado/a”. Since I have a Portuguese wife I don’t really relate to this. This isn’t actually very fair since I think a fair number of those (Brits, Germans, Americans…) who would self-identify as expats in Portugal don’t fit stereotypes of cultural arrogance or any other such nonsense but it’s what the word triggers in me.

My personal response to the word isn’t really the pint of this post though. Read the rest of this entry »

Epic peer review fail

November 12, 2008

You’ve probably all seen this by now, but headesk. John “cousin of Joan” Baez describing how the editor in chief of Elsevier’s “Chaos, Solitons and Fractals” has been publishing a big pile of nonsense in his own journal.
This further strengthens my belief in the conjecture that for all \epsilon >0 the value that the big for-profit publishers add to a paper is less than \epsilon

Lest we forget

November 11, 2008

For Armistice Day, some sad, beautiful songs about wars. Videos below the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Möbius transform video is pretty

November 10, 2008

This is my favourite maths video ever.

Songs for homesick Britons (part 1 of n for some n)

November 8, 2008

I’m feeling vaguely homesick today and trawling YouTube for music videos. I thought I ‘d share a couple

First are Blur who were pretty much the first band I really loved. They are playing “This Is a Low” which has lyrics based in part on the shipping forecast from Radio 4. Too few songs are based on the shipping forecast. It’s also quite startlingly lovely.

Second up, Billy Bragg singing Between the Wars. My elder sisters used to listen to Billy Bragg quite a lot when I was a kid. My dad seriously hated his voice, to the point were he just wouldn’t shut up about hating Billy Bragg’s voice. I usually start welling up around “Mine is a faith in my fellow man”.

Gödel’s theorems on “In Our Time” by the BBC

November 5, 2008

Hat tip to Yemon Choi (via email) for this very interesting discussion of Gödel’s theorems on Radio 4. It features the aforementioned Marcus du Sautoy, John Barrow of Cambridge and Philip Welch of Bristol. It is pitched nicely with interest whether you are a professional mathematician or if you have no training in maths at all.

I was particularly glad to hear someone at least draw some attention to the philosophical trickiness of the usual popularization of the theorems which talks about “true statements that cannot be proved in the system”. This always erks me a bit, because it isn’t entirely clear that a statement in a formal system has a meaning that survives being taken out of the system (and if it does that is a pretty subtle thing for this level of discussion). Thus just hearing the warning (from Welch?) about the theorems and their proofs being basically syntactic rather than semantic was nice. (It was du Sautoy giving the usual “true statement” version with but I will forgive him since he does so much good work and most mathematicians seem to be happy with the truthiness).

Incidentally, I suspect my feelings of awkwardness towards the claim we can talk about “truth” outside of “proof in a given system” may be related to the sort of maths I work in. My “grand-supervisor” Garth Dales discusses here how those who work in abstract analysis (and in algebra) tend to view their work as essentially formal (although using “realistic pictures” to help us).

Marcus du Sautoy FTW

November 1, 2008

The University of Oxford have appointed pure mathematician Marcus du Sautoy to the Simonyi Chair for Public Understanding of Science. This makes him Richard Dawkins’ successor, although I doubt Graun Unltd will be giving him his own category just yet. As well as being a very distinguished researcher, MdS is pure win as populizer. I loved Music of the Primes and his his Faraday Christmas lectures for kids were pitch perfect. Here he is with his Recreativo Hackney team mates and the infinity of primes: