9 September 2014

Happy birthday Tolstoy (and a few thoughts)

Through the evil Google, I learned that today is Leo Tolstoy's birthday (whatever this means: dates then, 1828, and now, keep shifting as the period of the Earth's orbit around the Sun and around its axis are not rationally related and so, to catch up, we have to revise calendars) and the following sprang to mind:
How come some nations, some peoples, have a much richer literature than others? 
I do not know the answer: Is it education?  Is it social structure? Is it wealth? Is it religion? Is it language? Is it history? Is it political freedom or its absence? A combination of the above? Which combination? Why? The answers are not straightforward because for every yes there is an exception and for every no there is another exception.

It is a fact that, had the world been without modern (19th c. and later) Russian literature, it would have been a much poorer world: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Lermontov, Gogol, Pushkin, etc. etc. They have formed an inspiration for the whole world.

Which brings forth the next observation: When learning a language, one of one's criteria (at least mine) has been the ability to see a new world through the writings in this language. And Russian is worth learning not least for this reason. (Alas, I do not know Russian beyond tourists' phrases.) Even though, as modern linguists tell us, all languages have the same expressive power, it is not true that all languages have achieved the same quality of literature. One criterion for learning a language is one's ability to communicate with the speakers of this language: languages whose speakers are good communicators can be learned more easily. Another criterion is the writings in this language: literature inspires and opens up new worlds. (By analogy, why should one read poor mathematical/scientific papers?)

7 September 2014

Scandinavian airlines and the refusal of responsibility: a reply

SAS sent, through my travel agent, a reply to my grievance against them. In my previous posting, I explained in detail that I went to Stockholm airport in order to fly to Buenos Aires via Frankfurt, the flight was delayed, SAS refused to help me, and when I pointed out to them that they have a responsibility to do so, they replied that "out of all people, a Greek should not talk about responsibility".

The SAS letter is below (in Swedish). They basically say, without going into any specific details, "sorry, we are going to tell the people at the airport not to do this again" and that "we offer you a gift voucher in the amount of 20 Euros". Their reply shows that they still avoid to take any responsibility about the fact that they refused to help me, they do not mention at all the insult, and, in addition they insult me further: they offer me 20 (twenty!) Euros. That is, they insult me further! What do they think, that I am a beggar or what? I would rather they addressed my concerns directly, rather than offer me pennies. I told the travel agent to send the gift voucher back with the reply that I remain offended by their ridiculous gesture.

Amazing, isn't it?
Has anyone encountered a company that avoids responsibility as much as SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) does?

From: sascustomercare@sas.se
Sent: den 2 september 2014 12:02
Subject: SE- Customer Care 14-056336/JP (KMM6306571V29192L0KM)
Det var mycket tråkigt att höra om bemötandet på Arlanda, och det är absolut inte så det ska gå till. Å SAS vägnar ber vi om ursäkt, och jag kommer att skicka vidare din feedback till personalansvarig på Arlanda och vi kommer internt att ta åtgärder så att detta ej sker igen.
Sen till själva ansvarsområdet så är informationen från LH samt från check in-personalen en sanning med modifikation. Vi hjälper enbart LH med incheckningen av väskor då det inte finns någon LH-representant på Arlanda. De är dock fortfarande ansvarig över resan, medan all information som läggs till och dras ifrån en biljett ska gå via dom som du har köpeavtalet med (inom de regelverk som resebyrån har givetvis). Det innebär att blir det en förändring i flygschemat ska den informationen skickas till resebyråerna som sedan ska informera passagerarna.
Dock är det annorlunda när det gäller ofrivilliga schemaändringar tätt inpå avgång. Rutinen är att det flygbolaget som påverkar reseplanen ska göra sitt bästa för att få passageraren vidare till sin slutdestination. Detta resulterar i att man antingen blir ombokad till en senare/tidigare flight, eller blir ombokad till ett annat flygbolag. Anledningen till varför SAS-personalen ville att du skulle resa vidare till Frankfurt är för att där skulle LH strukturera upp den nya resan till dig (då vi som sagt inte har någon LH-representant på Arlanda). Sen går vi även över till Star Alliance-samarbetet, vilket innebär att de olika biljettkontoren, ex. LH och SAS, kan endast använda sig av de egna flighterna. Hade passageraren rest till Frankfurt, hade personalen där kunnat använda sig av resterande Alliance-flyg för att ta sig vidare till Buenos Aires.
Dock innebär inte detta att vi har uppträtt korrekt, utan jag vill erbjuda passageraren ifråga en kompensation för dåligt bemötande med en giftvoucher till ett värde av EUR20. Vänligen återkom med hemadress så skickar vi dessa med posten så fort vi kan.
Hjälp oss att bli bättre! Klicka på bifogad länk och besvara några enkla frågor om hur du upplevde din e-postkontakt med oss. Tack för att du vill hjälpa oss att ytterligare förbättra vår service.
Med vänlig hälsning
Customer Care Team
SAS Visit us at flysas.com

27 August 2014

Bullets and Burgers

Anyone who is right in their mind will tell you not to give an Uzi submachine gun to a child. But there are lots of cretins out there, in Arizona this time (last time it was elsewhere), who take their kids to places where they can stuff them with hamburgers and shoot Uzis at the same time.

The establishment is called Bullets and Burgers and has great reviews on tripadvisor. It would have gone unnoticed, in the same league as other American weird "fun" parks, such as the Holy Land Experience and the Disney World (the last two are next to one another), had it not made the news today: Someone gave a nine year old girl an Uzi and taught her how to shoot. The girl lost control of the assault weapon and killed the instructor.

No wonder. Why would a nine year old child be taken to a place to be taught how to use submachine guns and eat hamburgers (and freedom fries)? I think the answer is: because it usually is fun! Well, it is so, until, one day something goes wrong.

But we know the response of most Americans, don't we?
Some of them will say:
Guns don't kill, people do. The girl was not properly taught. Instructors need more pupils of that age in order to teach properly. So, more guns are needed and more children who will shoot them.
Others will say:
It is Satan conducting spiritual warfare. It's an attack on Christianity in general, on Christians, and it's Satan trying to stop God's work in the earth. He'll use whoever he wants, whoever he can. It was Satan who guided the girl's hand.
In all cases, the response to this sad incident will be: More guns, more children using them, and prayers to god so that Mr Satan goes away. Actually, they're probably right. Because if you look carefully at the video below (someone thought it would be so cute to film the nine year old girl with the Uzi) you will see Satan at the upper left corner. Remember that, after all, Satan was seen again during the 9/11 attacks.

And, by the way, educate your kids:

According to Arizona law, it's OK for a child above 8 to have a machine gun (under the supervision of an adult). The law doesn't care if the adult or the child gets killed. "A nation, trained to arms, is an American linchpin of freedom, and is respected in Arizona like nowhere else." "We in Arizona seem destined to set [...] a shining example of gun rights for all free peoples of the Earth."

26 August 2014

Scandinavian airlines and the refusal of responsibility

I was recently invited to go to the Stochastic Processes conference in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go because of a delayed flight and the refusal of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) to assume any responsibility in helping me. The actual description of the events is here, but here is a short summary:

On 25 July 2014, I went to Stockholm airport to catch a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, followed by a flight to Buenos Aires. The flight to Frankfurt was delayed and so I would miss the flight to Buenos Aires. SAS represents Lufthansa (both members of Star Alliance) at the Stockholm airport. When I asked for help to find a next flight they replied:
We can't help you, we have no responsibility, get on the plane and go to Frankfurt to find out what will happen to you.
When I replied that it is irrational to go to Frankfurt and, possibly, get stranded, they repeated the same. When I asked them to find out when the next flight would be before I went to Lufthansa they repeated that they have no responsibility. When I insisted that they should, being a partner of Lufthansa and member of Star Alliance, take on the responsibility of finding out when the next flight is (so I don't have to wait in Frankfurt), they looked at my passport and said:
Who speaks of responsibility, a Greek?
I then contacted Lufthansa myself on my mobile phone and told me there would be no available seat for me for the next 5 days and there would be no point in me going to Frankfurt. They also said that SAS is clearly responsible for helping me in this situation. I had my mobile phone on speaker-phone mode so that the SAS people could hear Lufthansa's response.

They still insisted they had no responsibility whatsoever.

I have, through our university travel agent, filed a complaint and ask for compensation. Let's see what happens. Responsibility seems a word which is despised by SAS.


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant