28 November 2008

cat and mouse

I have nothing to say today. So let me post a photo:

26 November 2008

God Trumps: a family card game

Christmas is in the air. You walk down high street and you are bombarded with all kinds of festive songs, ranging from Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and the like. Like it or not, you are bound to hear the same music hundreds of times. It is, after all, the festive season, the season to spend your money, and the music, according to marketing researches, helps you do that. Christmas lasts now about two months each year (1/6 of the year). Christmas needs Gemütlichkeit, everyone around the fireplace (regardless of the temperature outside), and Glühwein, and food and, of course, family games! One of the best games around this season is God Trumps, invented by the New Humanist. It is designed to help the whole family choose the right religion. It's a card game. To play it, print the cards at size 63 mm × 88 mm (or B8 size) and glue on old playing cards or cardboard. (Some family activity too!) The rules are extremely simple and need not be added here for fear of insulting your intelligence.

As an added twist to the game, you may:
(i) Add your own religion. Who knows? You may be a success! And why not? A religion is something that can be invented and changed. The concept of a time-varying religion should seriously be studied in institutions of higher learning hosting schools of theology or divinity.
(ii) Copy the cards many times. Have a stock of dozens of each one and, depending on the way the game goes, see which cards are become dominant. Perhaps this will be an indication of the new cool religionof the year.
(iii) Invite your neighbours. Get involved in outreach activities. Play with your friends, make sure the game is spread all over the town, the country, the world!
(iv) Write to Tony Blair and ask him to adopt it as part of his course at Yale.

23 November 2008

Deep faith

This is a video about praying in unison. No comments will be added. Just watch and see what Goya meant when he said "the sleep of reason creates monsters". This is what faith is about, and what you see here is not an isolated phenomenon. Alas, there are far too many men and women of faith who practice these things. I wonder what Blair thinks about them when he teaches faith at Yale University...

21 November 2008

No to Guantánamo, Yes to Guantanamera

“As President, I will
close Guantánamo,
reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions”

– Barack Obama, 8/1/07

Therefore, now that he is president, we ask him: Close Guantánamo and end military commissions. In fact, let Guantánamo be a place where guantanamera comes from; it is songs we need, no war, no torture, no hatred:

18 November 2008

Silly maths quiz at BBC site

Marcus du Sautoy, the man who will succeed Richard Dawkins as professor for the understanding of science at the University of Oxford, has a mission to break down people's fear of maths. So he set up a quiz. Unfortunately, the quiz is rather naive and does not reflect what mathematics is about. Here are some dubious questions:

* A temple was built in 50 BC and burnt down 75 years later. In what year whas it burnt down?
(1) 24 AD. (2) 25 AD. (3) 26 AD.
The logical thinking gives -50+75=+25, i.e. 25 AD (provided that both events took place on the same day of the year, say on day 1.)
But the answer given by the BBC is: 26 AD. There was no year 0.
This is a fact, indeed: that there was no year 0. Some 1500 years ago, a monk called Dionisius Exiguus was charged with the creation of a calendar; this monk did not know that the integer succeeding -1 is 0 and not +1; i.e. he thought that -1+1=1.
But the ignorance of a monk should not be brought into a mathematical quiz which, supposedly, tests one's understanding of logic (and not of history!)

* Imagine picking up a cube with your thumb placed at one corner of the cube and your finger at the furthest corner on the other side of the cube. Now cut the cube exactly down the middle between your finger and thumb. You have two pieces with a new face. What is the shape of the new face?
(1) Hexagonal. (2) Square. (3) Triangular.
Before looking at the answer let us look at the way the problem is phrased. First, what exactly is meant by a corner? Is it a vertex? Is it an edge? I think he means a vertex, i.e. the point at which 3 faces meet. But it could be an edge: the segment at which 2 faces meet forms a corner, in my humble opinion, too. The answer will of course, be different depending on the interpretation of the word corner. OK, let us assume he means a vertex. Now what does he mean by "cut the cube exactly down the middle"? This could also mean a number of things. Here we must guess that he means to take the plane that is perpendicular to the segment joining two vertices at farthest distant appart and which passes through the middlepoint of this segment. This plane intersects the (boundary of the) cube at a polygon. And this polygon is, indeed, a hexagon.
But a mathematical question should be phrased in an unambiguous way!

* What is the next number in the sequence 1001, 122, 101, 32, 25, 23, 21, ...
(1) 20. (2) 18. (3) 15.
Again, this is a dangerous question for the mathematically uninitiated for he or she may think that there is a unique choice. For instance, if I give you the sequence 1,4,8,16,32,64,128 you might think that the next number is 256 (powers of 2). But a perfectly acceptable answer is 144. (Indeed, if we let p(m) be the product of the exponents in the prime factorisation of m, and define q(n) to be to be the smallest integer such that p(q(n))=n then q(1)=1, q(2)=4,...,q(7)=128, but q(8)=144.)
Now then, the answer to this question, according to BBC, but also according to the encyclopedia of integer sequences, is 18: if we write the number 17 in base 2 we get 1001, in base 3 it is 122, and so on.
But hang on a minute! This is by far NOT a fair question and a misleading one for the two reasons I outlined: first, it gives the wrong impession on what Mathematics is about. Second, the answer is hard and, clearly, not unique.

13 November 2008

The BLAFAFO = Blair Faith Foundation

Does this man look possessed?

You betcha! He is possessed by such a stupidity that, earlier this year, he declared that faith must be given a central role in tackling the world's problems. Faith? Have I heard well? Indeed, faith! This is a person who has not lived in the middle ages. Rather, he is alive and well now, in the 21st century, enjoying his benefits as the ex-prime minister of the UK. No sooner had he finished his career, than he ran to the Pope and asked him to transform him to a Christian Catholic (I suppose he had been worshiping a different version of Christianity before, hence he did need a transformation). Immediately after, he gave a speech at the Westminster Cathedral. He said he is a man of faith and that his faith has influenced his politics. In other words, he came out of the closet: Whereas his buddy Dubya has been saying out loud all along that God tells him what to do, Tony has been a bit more shy about his tendencies. We now know he has had exactly the same orientation as Dubya, but it took him long time to declare his pride with pride, which is what he does now, clearly and openly:

"Religious faith is a good thing in itself that so far from being a reactionary force - it is a major part to play in shaping values which guide the modern world and can and should be a force for progress."

So, for Anthony Blair, faith is a force of progress! In other words, with one sentence he wipes out all scientific progress, all rational thought, he decides to embrace the darkness of unreason, to get rid of enlightenment... And guess what he does. He knows he can't quite find sympathy for his stupidity in the UK so he goes to the land of the blessed ones, America, and establishes the Tony Blair Fath Foundation! There he finds sponsors who supply him with dollars to use as he wishes. He also practices mind-fucking at Yale University. (Is it a coincidence that Yale is also the school where Dubya "studied"?) He is teaching a 3-year course at the Yale Divinity School and Management School. (What on earth is the connection between the supernatural and management, only God knows, and, I suppose, this is what Blair is now talking about, having obtained direct links to God--his previous links were indirect, i.e. through his Dubya.) Rumour has it that Yale offered to his offspring, Euan Blair, more money than Harvard (92,000 bucks), in order that both father and son go to Yale rather than Harvard. (I suppose this must have strengthened Tony's faith, for miracles like this happen only to those who believe.)

Now guess who introduced Blair at his Faith Foundation ceremony. You have only one guess. "Dubya!" you reply. Wrong! You lose! Why, it is Bill, Bill Clinton himself! (Another man of faith, I take it.):

And if you were thinking of going to the movies tonight, spare your money and click below instead (as well as related links on you tube): The comedy of Tony Blair in all its glory (and idiocy)!

No freedom of speech in Turkey

A Turkish court has banned internet users from viewing the official Richard Dawkins website after a Muslim creationist, Adnan Oktar (pen name: Harun Yahya)

claimed its contents were defamatory and blasphemous. Story here.

Adnan Oktar is a Muslim creationist. Creationists (also known as intelligent designers) are light-headed people who deny Darwin's view of evolution, as well as many other scientific facts, such as the age of the Universe, the fact that the Earth is round (some think the Earth is flat). Typically, creationists are Christian fundamentalists. But here we see that creationists exist amongst Muslims as well. That this event happened in Turkey is not surprising because Turkey has a long track record in banning websites, and is particularly fond of blocking YouTube for allegedly offending national sensibilities. The bans have hurt its image at a time when its restrictions on free speech are under scrutiny owing to its EU membership bid.

It is very sad that the Turkish government, under the pressure of a fundamentalist, decided to ban Dawkins' site. Free speech should mean free speech, regardless of whether you agree with it or not. Banning a source of information is not what the 21st century is supposed to be about.

Note, added on 25/11/o8:
This guy is now offering some 50,000 euros for an essay on why evolution is false:

You have about a year to right some idiocy and send it to the so called (euphemistically) Research Science Foundation, Çakırağa mah, Katip Müslihittin sok, Sağlam İşhanı No.3 D.12-13 Aksaray/İstanbul.

10 November 2008

Orthodoxy makes front page news (again)

Fighting erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion in Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli police have had to restore order after a mass brawl broke out between monks. Stories here and here.

Several similar incidences have occurred in the past:

On Palm Sunday, in April 2008, a brawl broke out due to a Greek monk being ejected from the building by a rival faction. Police were called to the scene but were also attacked by the enraged brawlers. Story here.

In 2004 during Orthodox celebrations of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Orthodox and a fistfight broke out and some people were arrested. Story here.

In 2002 Ethiopian and Copt monks threw stones at each other over rights to the church roof.

Honestly, I don't understand what they are fighting for. One sect wants a monk placed inside a room, the other does not. Or a door is left open... What's the big deal? Well, go figure... In matters of religion, trying to understand is not the thing to do.

7 November 2008

Leave science alone

Here is a 21st century phenomenon: religious morons (ab)using science to prove that god exists, and, more specifically, the particular version of the god they believe in. I shall come back to this important new technique of religious bigots, but, for now, here is an example. The book of some R. D. Duncan discusses "[t]he periodic table of elements presented as never before! The tiniest elements that make up the world are more than just scientific odds and ends. Each and every one is an opportunity to celebrate the power, wisdom, order, and ingenuity of our Creator!". I searched to find out about the qualifications of this Duncan, but I had no luck. Surely, knowledge of Chemistry if not important for such books. But a dose of idiocy and blind faith certainly is. What a bunch of balloney!

But, hang on a minute. If you think this is to hard to digest, then how about the easier version, God’s Design for Chemistry, designed for grades 3–7, or the even easier one, God’s Design for Life, for grades 1-6 (both published by Answers in Genesis–US)?

If this is not mind-fucking, then what is?

Fine, one could argue, let those religious bigots, like Duncan, publish their books and circulate it amongst their circles. These authors have no scientific credentials, so they won't be taken seriously. But a more major problem is posed by those who do have scientific credentials and do try to promote (their version of) god and (their version of) religion by (ab)using their scientific titles in order to deceive laymen? An example of people in this category is Dr John Lennox of Oxford, who, by claiming his authority as a mathematician (an algebraist in fact working on finite groups), produces naive and childish arguments and books to prove that science implies that (his
version of) god exists and that (his version of) religion is true. More on this soon...

6 November 2008

"Living in Texas feels like being in a big prison"

This is what I used to say when I lived in Austin, Texas. And here is a proof:

Do you see the blue spec in the middle called Austin? It's sunk in a sea of reactionary red. (Just as a few other places.) You venture outside it and you're in the land of intolerance, the land of people whose law is based on guns and the Bible, the land of those who voted for McCain (and Dubya and his father in the past). Try to speak and you fear for your life. Despite appearances, this land is one of the most fundamentalist places in the world. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of expression. Waco and Huntsville (were people get executed all the time) are typical of Texas. If you are different you can't stay. You may be killed. So you end up spending all the time in Austin, feeling, exactly, like being in a huge prison. This is why I used to use this phrase.

5 November 2008

Good riddance Dubya

The all-time loser in presidential history will be remembered as the worst president of the US. This is what Simon Schama wrote yesterday in the Guardian, adding that not even McCain wanted to be seen as having anything to do with this idiot when he declared "I am not George Bush" in his final debate. Clearly, McCain didn't manage to dissociate himself too much from Dubya, and this resulted in his declaration, along the hockey mom, of defeat today. We are all worried, says the Guardian today, what kind of job will Dubya be capable of doing in 77 days from today. Because he's a man of action, he won't want to retire. The Guardian proposes the following jobs for W:
The new Doctor Who,
Leader, North Korea
Presenter, Friday Night with Dubya
Tour guide, presidential library
Manager, Watford FC
Star, W: the Musical
Interior minister, Iran
Paris Hilton's new best friend
Presenter, Top Gear
Sarah Palin's running mate, 2012
Biographer, George Bush Sr.
But no matter what job he does, he will be remembered, in our hearts, as the prime example of the a good-old malakas.


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