27 January 2009

Obama orders Guantánamo closure

Two months ago, Obama promised he'd close Guantánamo prison. He has now signed an order that this should happen within a year from now. This shameful prison, established and maintained against all international laws and outcries, is going away. Now, here is a politician who keeps his promises.

On a lighter side, Obama knows how to speak English. He *can* pronounce the word "nuclear" as ˈnü-klē-ər. (Won't we miss Bush and his -isms?) Listen to it here, along with a promise to the muslim world that they will find an extended hand from the US if they unclench their fist.

24 January 2009

Britannica goes public

Mimicking Wikipedia, the Encyclopaedia Britannica plans to let readers and contributing experts expand and maintain entries online. A while ago, Wikipedia was found to be about as accurate on science as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

22 January 2009

Lennox vs Hitchens

Some time ago (August 2008), someone came up with the idea to have a debate between Christopher Hitchens and John Lennox on the (silly) question whether Europe should prefer the new atheism (whatever the latter means and whatever the verb "to prefer" means), as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. Well, the debate took place, Hitchens "lost", and Lennox pulled from his usual bag of naive arguments (based on pseud-science) to defend his faith. I was there, I asked some questions to Lennox, I received silly answers, I was interviewed by the BBC, and made some "friends" who tried to proselytize me by sending me several emails afterwards. I wrote about it on the blog wet lenses and so here's the link for the record of it.

As for Lennox, I've written about him before, for example, here and here.

21 January 2009

Everything we see and everything we can’t see exists

This is NOT what I maintain. But this is what was claimed yesterday, the first day of Obama's presidency. Indeed, Obama chose Rick Warren to say that:

...everything we see and everything we can’t see exists...

How can a rational, thinking person not see the logical mistake (as well as the idiocy) of the above statement? The full text of Warren's speech is here.

The fundamental theorem of algebra

The simplest proof of the fundamental theorem of algebra (every polynomial has a complex root), to the best of my knowledge, is the one by Anton R. Schep, just published in the American Mathematical Monthly, Volume 116, Number 1, January 2009 , pp. 67-68(2). It's worth knowing and so here it goes:

Suppose that p(z) is a polynomial in the complex variable z and that p(z) is never zero. Then 1/p(z) is an entire (analytic everywhere) function. By Cauchy's theorem,
I(r) := ∫ (1/zp(z)) dz = 2π i/p(0),
where the integral I(r) is taken over a circle of radius r and centered at the origin. But
|I(r)| ≤ ∫ (1/|z| |p(z)| ) |dz| ≤ (1/r m(r)) ∫ |dz|,
where m(r) is the smallest value of |p(z)| when z ranges on the circle, while the latter integral in the display above is, clearly, the circumference of the circle, i.e. 2 π r. Combining the above we see that
m(r) ≤ p(0).
But this can't be true for all r because, as r → ∞, we have m(r) → ∞. QED

The Obama inauguration invocation: utter nonsense and sheer hypocricy

Why did president Obama choose a creep, a religious bigot, a hypocrite, an intolerant individual, a christian fundamentalist, Rick Warren, as the one to give the invocation at his inauguration? Why did he need to have a religious invocation at all? Why all this hypocricy?

Because he is a politician. He knows he cannot approach people by pretending not to be a christian himself. There were echoes that he did not grow up in a religious environment, because his mother was agnostic (his father was an atheist but he hardly ever met him). So he had to work hard to convince the american public that he is ``a man of faith'':

It is still a disgrace to say ``I do not have any faith''. (And why should anyone have a faith?) So, during his election campaign he appeared to be praying, and the morning of his inauguration he went to church. To top it all up, he chose this creep Warren to give a speech. And just watch the idiocies he uttered. He talked about the environment (god forgive us if we don't treat the environment well), but he refrained to talk about gay marriage (the Pope would have done it) despite the fact that he has a gay fear as much as the Pope.

Nevertheless, there were quite a few protesters during his inauguration, mostly from the christian right.Apparently, Obama has not quite convinced them he is acting as a real christian...

16 January 2009

Man refuses to drive 'No God' bus

Earlier this month, 800 buses appeared in the UK carrying the message "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

I just realised that a Christian bus driver, Ron Heather, from Southampton, Hampshire, the man on the photo below, has refused to drive a bus with this slogan.

Story is here.

Obvious questions arise: For example, should a Muslim driver refuse to drive a bus advertising a particular Christian church? Or vice versa? Why does the NO-GOD phrase offend Christians (and other religious people) more than the DIFFERENT-GOD claim?

13 January 2009

Science and Pseudoscience

I just came across the page on Science and Pseudoscience by Jason Rosenhouse. In it, he states:

Many professionals respond to pseudoscience by ignoring it. This is a mistake, if for no other reason than the fact that funding decisions are made by politicians, who must be sensitive to their constituents, many of whom take pseudoscientific ideas very seriously indeed. It is not a good thing that a phony psychic passing off simple parlor tricks as communication with the dead has one of the highest rated shows on television. Nor is it good that many learn what they know of modern science from right-wing showmen like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity (who once shamelessly described Darwinism as "liberal science".) Ultimately, the only way to defeat such nonsense is to confront it vigorously.

I couldn't agree more. It is, indeed, a mistake to ignore these pseudo-scientists. Thank you, Jason, for putting it so eloquently.

On the same page, one can find a collection of reviews and essays by Jason. They look well-written and plan to read them in detail.

9 January 2009

'No God' campaign draws complaint

The following is taken directly from a BBC site. I ask: Why should a Christian complain when other people believe there is no god and NEVER complain when they believe in a god who is different from theirs. Since there are plenty of religions on Earth, it follows that there are plenty of gods to choose from. Why should the claim that a god does not exist be more offensive than a claim supporting a different god or gods?

An atheist campaign claiming "There's probably no God" has been reported to the advertising regulator.

Posters with the slogan appear on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground.

But organisation Christian Voice has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying they break rules on substantiation and truthfulness.

The British Humanist Association, which backed the campaign, said it was not taking the complaint seriously.

The ASA's code states "marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims". The regulator said it would assess the complaint and decide whether to contact the advertiser.

'Peals of laughter'

The adverts contain the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

But Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: "There is plenty of evidence for God, from people's personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.

"But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it."

The campaign was dreamed up by comedy writer Ariane Sherine and was supported by scientist and vocal atheist Richard Dawkins.

Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "I've sought advice from some of our key people here, but I'm afraid all I've got out of them so far is peals of laughter.

"I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God's existence."

8 January 2009

Mathematicians earn top pick as the best job

... says here:

If you thought math was just a boring grade school subject, you might be kicking yourself now for not putting in more effort. CareerCast.com, a new job-search site, evaluated 200 professions in a study that came out today and named mathematicians as their top pick.
To determine rankings, the study evaluated income, physical demands, stress, and employment outlook.

What makes mathematics such a hot field? The working conditions are typically comfortable, especially when compared to brick layer and sewage-plant operator, just some of the other professions in the study. Mathematicians work indoors with no physical strain, and they don't have to deal with toxins or noisy machinery. Even better, the job comes with a nice payday. The survey estimated the annual salary of a mathematician is $94,160.

Jennifer Courter, a mathematician for 3D-visualization software maker Mental Images Inc. in San Francisco, told the Wall Street Journal that her job allows her to problem-solve, which she says, to her, is calming. A mathematical-based computer software she and her colleagues developed was used in the production of such blockbuster films as The Matrix and Speed Racer.

Jobs that fared well in the survey included those that had little physical labor, avoided exposure to the elements, and steady, predictable hours. Labor-intensive jobs that put workers outside ranked low, with the bottom three jobs being taxi driver, dairy farmer, and lumberjack.

I'm happy to say that the job of an accountant made the top ten, and I'd have to agree. It's also interesting to note that four of the top 10 jobs are heavily reliant on math skills, so students should take that into account when they're busy dissing the business of numbers. I have to question the validity of the survey, however, when I see the job of parole officer at number 13. I once had that job, and the highlights were low pay and days spent in bad neighborhoods doing "home visits." I'll stick with numbers, thank you.

3 January 2009

Astronomy and the Vatican

The Vatican maintains an astronomical observatory. Besides some resident astronomers, the Pope himself occasionally visits it.

What good does this make to the Vatican? Has there ever been a discovery there not made anywhere else? The Vatican claims that science is not incompatible with religion but it hasn't always been so. Recall that the (catholic christian) church refused for centuries to acknowledge the fact that the earth is not the centre of the universe. In the early 17th century they condemned Galileo for writing about this fact. More than 300 years later (in 1992) Pope John Paul II apologised officially for this condemnation.

So it takes 3 centuries for a religious organisation (like the catholic church) to recognise a scientific fact. This is not good enough. Not good enough for science. Science can immediately adjust a theory, turn a model upside down if incorrect, perform new experiments,... In short, the scientific method works in faster time scales. And science does not need the approval or disapproval of a religious organisation in order to proceed. Simply, science does not care about religion, regardless of whether the latter is compatible or not with the former. It is irrelevant.

2 January 2009

International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID)

I just came across a site with an interesting name: International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID. They describe themselves as follows:

The International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) is a cross-disciplinary professional society that investigates complex systems apart from external programmatic constraints like materialism, naturalism, or reductionism. The society provides a forum for formulating, testing, and disseminating research on complex systems through critique, peer review, and publication. Its aim is to pursue the theoretical development, empirical application, and philosophical implications of information- and design-theoretic concepts for complex systems.

All that sounds good. However, a few clicks on the site reveals that it is authored by a number of religious fellows whose aim is to promote absurd claims through science. Their aim is to show that "complex systems" such as human beings and the universe have been created by a deity. They wish to (mis)use science and mathematics in order to disprove physical laws or rational arguments. These endeavours are now known as "creationism" or "intelligent design", the latter being a pseudo-scientific version of the former. Alas, the list of fellows ISCID contains names which cannot be taken too seriously: E.g., William Dembski is a failed mathematician who decided to devote his career for the promotion of Intelligent Design. John Lennox is a priest who has done work in Algebra (finite groups) at Oxford and writes books in which he uses silly arguments to prove that his version of god (not just any god, but the particular one he revers--he is a north-irish protestant) is responsible for the creation of life and the universe. None of these fellows have ever written anything serious on the concepts they try to deal with (information theory, complex systems, probability theory, algorithms), yet ISCID claims they are experts!

Conclusion: ISCID is a joke and cannot be taken seriously.


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