Math Noise

Survived another expedition to Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill. May have a new project. Film at Eleven.

In the meantime, ran across this cartoon: [Link]

and sympathize. There is something about rhythmic noise fitting nicely with maths. I tend to make nonsense noises when I am so engaged.

But someone should tell the bairns that fractions are useful as establishing ratios in a concrete, or, at least, visual, sense. Otherwise, give me a decimal. It’s amenable to manipulation. Fractions aren’t which is probably why classical Greek maths got stalled and rotted?

Maths Blind

First Day. Frawggy. Not the nice type of fog that sits a few meters off the ground, the wet yucky kind that is everywhere. Hence to gym, and a podcast episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas” on Shackleton.

Shackleton is not someone I pay much mind of. Explorers aren’t that engaging. The most instructive thing about them is their inability to get along in society. So their chief benefit and therapy is going elsewhere.

The podcast was slanted rather heavily about climate change. Differences between then and now. They kept trying to make some moral/ethical connection but it failed consistently.

Speaking of failure, I ran across an article [Link] this weekend entitled “Gravity waves exemplify the power of intelligent equations.” And yes, this is one of those horrible parasitic pieces of journalism that use the current “big” topic as a shoehorn for something almost orthogonal. 

In this case, the article is really about the physics embedded/implied by maths. Gravitational waves are such a thing since Einstein saw them in his Relativity maths. 

This is not a new thing. It’s something you learn as an undergraduate, at least in physics. To a lesser extent in Chemistry and vanishingly in Biology. And it is a wonderful thing, I was particularly fulfilled by a quote from Heinrich Hertz,

“It is impossible to study this wonderful theory, without feeling as if the mathematical equations had an independent life and an intelligence of their own, as if they were wiser than ourselves, indeed wiser than their discoverer, as if they gave forth more than he had put into them.”

But the thing that struck me yesterday, and saddened me, was that since half of humanity is maths blind (acalculate) and much of the rest mind wiped on the subject, they can never enjoy the thrill and beauty of this. They have to live their lives in the dark, so to speak, unaware of what may be.

Very Greek Tragedy, I think. 

Scottish Crocodile

Ran across this article [Link] this morning. Scots maths problem about a crocodile noshing a zebra. Claimed to be too hard. Not sure why. My solution below.

assuming I didn’t make an algebra mistake. This is a sophomore level problem as worked but all that was needed was the first equation, formed by inspection, and a bit of iteration of x between 0 and P.

Sadly refreshing.

Sudden Realization

I was wrestling with the problem of balancing maths with words yesterday when it struck me out of the blue what was wrong with the Star Treks.

Not that there isn’t a lot wrong with them but they are a lot better than the Star Wars.

No slavery, for one thing.

Anyway, it struck me that if you were going out exploring new places and societies that you needed a ship’s mathematician.

Not a chief science officer. Maths isn’t science. Real maths that is, not applied stuff. And perhaps more important, science isn’t maths. Partly yes, but scientists who think like mathematicians aren’t scientists. 

So you need a mathematician for the way he/she thinks and uses maths.

While it smacks of a shtick ala “Jews in Space”, you need mathematicians on exploratory space ships in addition to scientists.

I only recall one science fiction story about mathematicians in space and it isn’t this. It was written by Isaac Asimov and it was a Lije Bailey murder story about who killed the old mathematician? Not at all the same thing.

Heat Hammer?

Thor’s day. The horrible heat continues. (humor) When the clerk arrived to open the gym this morning I was already bemused by several “hot” comments from the other queued for entry. 

The podcast was an episode of the English Ubuntu podcast and started a new season. That meant I was only about two months behind. Viva Pack Rat Paranoia! Rather not too bad. I am now firmly convinced that I do not want, nor need, an Ubuntu cellular telephone. From their descriptions the swiping spectrum is so dense that I will never be able to get it down. I fear swiping is not one of my talents. In fact, I am a swipe klutz. Half the time when I try to finger press a key or button on a screen I get a totally unwanted, often catastrophic, effect. On the good side, It makes me much happier for calculators with good keys. And my Northgate keyboards. Although I am using a Filco right now and it is acceptable. And yes, keyboards today do satisfy Sturgeon’s Rule. At least 0.9 of them are stercus

I have been studying Stochastic Differential Equations (again!, maybe the fifth time?) and have made enough progress this time to discover that they aren’t very useful as posed by the math wonks. This is not a surprise. When I was a senior undergraduate one of my maths professors, whose degrees were in civil engineering but taught applied maths because, frankly, mathematicians don’t teach applied maths well. 

He told me once that “Physicists don’t really do maths; they just beat them into submission.” 

I suspect it it time for some beating.

Grail Quest

Saturn’s day and the air temperature is less than yesterday’s this time. Definitely a brisk! constitutional in the park. And blissfully absent crashing drug addict. So I had some solitude to listen to podcast and my cerebration. Which mostly is wrestling with stochastic differential equations (SDEs).

SDEs have been a grail quest of mine for several years. They pretty much came on the scene after my formal schuling so I never had a chance to take a course in the subject. There may have been courses but their existence didn’t get past my mind screen of now-stuff. I first ran across them about ten or fifteen years ago and decided I needed to study them enough to see if they would be a useful tool. 

The problem was that I found myself in the position of a neolithic hunter-gatherer who asked about how to make stone tools and was handed a rock and told to get to it. I started my quest by buying a “textbook” on SDEs. Lots of theorems and rather unintelligible proofs but no tool usage. The examples never got beyond the trivial and were never adequately explained. 

I should comment here that one of the problems of being a not-Mathematician is that what is important for a mathematician to say in a maths book is not what is important to an S&E for tool use. Most of what a mathematician wants to make sure gets covered is not really relevant to someone who want to use a tool. I don’t care very much how the screwdriver is made if it has the right properties as a tool. So there is a lot of information but no indication of what has to be applied to use the tool.

This makes for a hideously frustrating situation. Lots of trial and failure. And eventually ennui and walk-away. 

So periodically the itch has returned. I go out and survey the market. All the courses are for real mathematicians – that probably ought to be indicative? No “dummy” books. I visit college bookstores and browse the course texts; I visit Amazon and Barnes and Ignoble and do searches. I buy anything that offers “applications”. Time and again, trial and failure and fleeing the black flies. 

I suspect this attempt will end the same. But I am still trying. And it is, tritely, very trying. 

Film at Eleven. If Eleven ever comes.


Not Glass, Maths

Yuck. Saturn’s day and not bright. The weather is not supposed to be as precipitous as yesterday but my mood is. But I did get to go walk in park this morning. There was some sort of spitting but so sparse as to only be observable once per lap or thereabouts. I continued listening to “Linux Luddites” from Thor’s day and this bit was quite nice a bashing of both Fedora and Gnome Shell. 

I have tried Fedora a couple of times and it is too gritty for me. I like a bit of polish and smooth. And Gnome Shell is at once both a tile GUI and a betrayal of the user community. Admittedly it is the best of the tile GUIs, much better than Winders or Unity, but still a tile GUI. I have recently considered that if the Christianists are accurate and there is a afterlife place of punishment (yes, I know that is contradictorily illogical) then part of that place will be using W8. 

Back when I first came to Linux, Gnome 2 was the pinnacle of GUIs. It was Glodilockian; it was “just right”. And then it was abandoned and Gnome Shell was flooped out – like a flatulent bit of feces – as a replacement. That’s the betrayal.

On which azimuth, I cam across an article [Link] entitled “The Math Ceiling: Where’s your cognitive breaking point?” It’s a blot written by a chap teaching pre-college (?) maths in England. And the question, posed I understand, by his department head is whether humans have a “natural” maths ceiling. He does quite a good job of covering the matter which seems to collapse into a model of teachers saying “no” and students (past and present) saying “yes”. 

I have expressed previously my agreement with Tyson’s tweet that good students learn in spite of bad teachers. Bad in this context is the perception of the student, not the teacher or peers or instrumentality. Somehow I doubt this fellow is bad to most students, however. 

I have to admit that I have never had a teacher of maths tell me that I can learn something. They mostly just laid it out and let us partake or not. Yes, some wanted us to learn but they didn’t push very often. (My freshman calculus instructor is an exception. I blew an integration exercise on a test and she made me revisit it, much to my embarrassment and edification.) But prior to college and after  most of my maths learning has been on my own.

I have to admit that learning has been superficially sporadic. From my perspective I have learned a lot of maths since graduation and not learned a lot. The distinguishing factor is whether I could see some use for the maths. If I tried to learn some maths for its own sake, I almost always failed but if I could early on see some way I could use the maths I plugged away at it. Did I learn it as well as a mathematician? Absolutely not! Did I learn it well enough to help me in my research? Absolutely yes!

I tried several times, years ago when it was popular, to learn chaos theory. Failed every time. Those landscapes just didn’t have enough tool to them. But renewal theory and order statistics and a bunch of others. Yes. Unqualified. 

So is that a ceiling or some sort of buffer or filter? I think more the latter. We can learn a lot more if we are interested than not, and for me, at least, being able to bash things with the maths is a form of being interested.