28 December 2011

Orthodox jews' spit

Meanwhile, the other kind of orthodox religious folk (Orthodox Jews this time), decided that an 8-year old girl going to religious school in the town of Beit Shemesh, Israel, was immodestly dressed and spat on her.
They also want women to walk at different sides of the road than men.

Oh, I love religion, especialy the *orthodox* kind (jews, christians, etc.)

Orthodox christians' fight (deja vu)

It's now a custom that Orthodox Christian priests, Greek and Armenian, will pick up a fight between one another, in Bethlehem's Church of Nativity.

The clashes took place, again, today. They were stopped by Palestinian police force. It seems that such clashes take place almost yearly. The reasons are financial.

19 December 2011

North Korean "god" dies

Kim Jong-il, died today. He was a vile dictator. His country is a hell-hole. People are starving. Gulags, concentration camps. Torture. Total lack of freedom. You name it. And yet, the cult of personality enjoyed by Kim Jong-il is amazing. North Koreans are grieving. They lost their god. Look at this:

And a similar video at BBC news.

This is religion. The same kind of unreasonable attachment to the irrational which makes people revere gods and obey, like sheep, is the one which makes the young woman in the first video declare:
I will change sorrow into strength and courage and remain faithful to respected comrade Kim Jong-un [Kim Jong-il's son, who is expected to be his successor; she has already chosen her next god.]

17 December 2011

On bullshit

By now, Harry Frankfurter's little treatise On Bullshit, is a modern classic, I dare say. Published in 2005 by Princeton University Press, it studies one of the most common anathemas of our society, i.e., bullshit. The word is almost a neologism, which, according to wikipedia, was coined by T.S. Elliot's poem, The Triumph of Bullshit, some 100 years ago. I had bought the book back in 2005 and read it with interest and amusement. Some time later, my friend Joe Higgins, not knowing that I possessed a copy, sent it to me as a gift. I kept it because I had lost (or lent to someone) my original copy.

The word is not easily translatable in other languages. But we do have, of course, the almost equivalent "malakies" (μαλακίες) in Greek [caveat: in plural, not in singular!], and google translate knows that, but google translate does not know a word better than "mierda" in Spanish; whereas in German it says "Bullshit" [capital B, of course] and in French it gives "connerie", bien sur.

Etymology aside, bullshit is a well-recognized, daily-used. word. Bullshitters exist everywhere. You can find them among politicians, academics, lawyers, managers, business people, journalists, scientists, uneducated folk, etc. Frankfurter argues that a bullshitter is not a liar. A liar knows he is lying and, in a sense, is more honest (to himself) than a bullshitter. A bullshitter is a different sort of guy, one for whom lies or truth is irrelevant. He explains that in this 10-minute interview.

We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production, but why is bullshit so much tolerated? There are no laws against bullshit, whereas there certainly are for lies. Is a bullshitter less harmful than a liar? Is it because it is harder to tell what constitutes bullshit? Why do we tolerate bullshit? No good answer exists (yet).

What has bothered me, throughout my academic career, is Academic Bullshit (ABS). This is a special kind of bullshit, one that academics specialize in, ranging from philosophers (c.f. the Sokal affair) to scientists, engineers and mathematicians. It is the last two categories that concern me mostly, because I have worked in such academic environments. A special case of ABS is Academic Bullshit in Teaching and Education (ABST). Frequently using as an excuse the criterion of customer [read student] satisfaction, a large number of academics have transformed teaching into boring, jejune, stupid, false act. I wrote about this at the beginning of the year. I have based my observations on ABST on my personal experience during the past 5 years in the UK, previously in Greece and before that in the US. I have encountered many, a large number indeed, of people practising ABST and have collected a number of glaring examples. The presence of ABST in the University is what brings a university to its knees. In the meantime, universities collect students' fees, deliver ABST to them, but it is not easy to distinguish ABST from true teaching. This is precisely the success of ABST. But it also shows why ABST, and more general forms of Bullshit, should be punishable by our legal system. It is as bad as lying, if not worse than it. 

16 December 2011

Untheism, Antitheism and Atheism

I was recently made aware of a post by Eliezer Yudkowsky on two concepts, related to atheism, which he calls untheism and antitheism. This was a response to my comment (taken from a pseudo-scientist's (John Lennox) site) that "I am neither atheist nor theist nor deist". With this I meant that it is my wish that we lived in a society where religious dogmas and all that were as irrelevant as Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot. Yudkowsky argues that an untheist
would be someone who grew up in a society where the concept of God had simply never been invented - where writing was invented before agriculture, say, and the first plants and animals were domesticated by early scientists. In this world, superstition never got past the hunter-gatherer stage - a world seemingly haunted by mostly amoral spirits - before coming into conflict with Science and getting slapped down.
He imagines an untheist society progressing to the point where they develop science, but without passing through the stage where they were slapped by religion. They have had no need for gods in their society. Suppose then that, at some point, they get in touch with a person from our society who tells them
"The universe was created by God -"
"By what?"
"By a, ah, um, God is the Creator - the Mind that chose to make the universe -"
"So the universe was created by an intelligent agent. Well, that's the standard Simulation Hypothesis, but do you have actual evidence confirming this? You sounded very certain -"
"No, not like the Matrix! God isn't in another universe simulating this one, God just... is. He's indescribable. He's the First Cause, the Creator of everything -"
"Okay, that sounds like you just postulated an ontologically basic mental entity. And you offered a mysterious answer to a mysterious question. Besides, where are you getting all this stuff? Could you maybe start by telling us about your evidence - the new observation you're trying to interpret?"
"I don't need any evidence! I have faith!"
"You have what?"
The untheist cannot understand the argument of the theist. It is alien to them, irrelevant. If the encounter persists, the untheist will develop arguments against the irrational beliefs of the guy from our civilization, at which point, says Yudkowsky, the untheist becomes antitheist. And then, he argues, this is atheism. The argument is nice.
And as for the claim that religion is compatible with Reason - well, is there a single religious claim that a well-developed, sophisticated Untheist culture would not reject? When they have no reason to suspend judgment, and no anti-epistemology of separate magisteria, and no established religions in their society to avoid upsetting?
He concludes thus:
Yet in the long run, the goal is an Untheistic society, not an Atheistic one - one in which the question "What's left, when God is gone?" is greeted by a puzzled look and "What exactly is missing?"
And this is my point too.

He also mentions the following very logical concept: that in a pre-agricultural society, one of hunters gatherers, the concept of good god is absent:
Before you have chiefdoms where the priests are a branch of government, the gods aren't good, they don't enforce the chiefdom's rules, and there's no penalty for questioning them.
Again, this is a very precise observation. Religion was invented to keep people subordinate to a chieftain, a lord, a king, an emperor. It's a cheap substitute of opium for the masses, distributed freely by the rulers.

15 December 2011

Happy Newtonmas cards (reposting)

A reporter of www.religionnews.com recently asked me if she could interview me about my Newtonmas cards. "Sure", I said. And she did. I'm still waiting to see my interview online. Meanwhile, here are the cards again. Enjoy.

New Zealand church "challenge"

I just read that St Matthew-in-the-City Church in Auckland erected a billboard with the following image:
People found it offensive and defaced it. The church explained that they want to challenge people and think what  Christmas is all about, about the virgin birth or about love. A spokesman for the Catholic Church replied:
"Our Christian tradition of 2,000 years is that Mary remains a virgin and that Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph. Such a poster is inappropriate and disrespectful."
Here we go again. Tradition, no matter how obscure it may be, is put above reason. Whereas I applaud the first church's act to challenge an irrational tradition, I think that, if taken to its eventual logical conclusion, the first church would have to eventually challenge every aspect of its religious dogmas. But then why have a church at all? This is what the critics fear.

A politically motivated conservative organization called Family First, replied:
"To confront children and families with the concept as a street billboard is completely irresponsible and unnecessary,"
This is nonsense. As a child, I loved to be confronted with a reasonable explanation of the traditionally irrational. It made me feel happier and better able to confront the world. Why should children be treated as stupid? Who said that imposing upon them the beliefs and superstitions of a 2000 year old tradition is good for them? The eventual harm done to children by indoctrinating them with irrational absurdities is much higher than a moment's truth.

7 December 2011

Those silly pseudo-scientists, II

I just checked Lennox's site, and saw a posting of mine there, a response to other postings, going like this:
The reason that it is ridiculous to bring god/religion into society is precisely because I care a lot about the well-being of all human beings and all life on Earth. Infanticide had been practiced in the name of gods in the past.
The second reason that it is irrational to talk about gods and religions is that there are many gods and many religions. Which one should I choose? By convention, typically, one chooses the gods/religion he/she is brought up with (like Lennox). But why is this a right choice?
The third reason it makes no sense to have religion in our society it is because it makes people lazy: for instance, you think it is a cosmic accident that we are here. You need to spend lots of years and effort in order to understand scientific facts which are not possible to grasp by trivial observations. If someone says “the Bible says so”, most likely this person is lazy.
Finally, let me correct you and others in three of your inferences:
1) Someone mentions the word “random” in their message. I very much doubt that they know what it means.
2) You say I am a leftist. I am not. You also think that being leftist is related to being atheist.
3) Perhaps you are implying that I am atheist. I am not. I am neither atheist nor theist nor deist.
4) Lennox is an ex-mathematician, just as Collins is an ex-atheist. The thing they have both in common is that they use their credentials in order to impress people who don’t have them.
5) Somebody else talks about god (i) as if there is one god and (ii) as if god is male (he uses the male pronoun). Hindus claim there are many gods. Why should I accept one and not two or five and a half gods?
One person replied to me and, among other things, he said this:
One must first investigate the claims of religions, and which one produces the best explanation. Christianity, of course, provides the best explanation and best evidence over any other religion. Saying “there are many religions” does not entail “all religions are false,” which seems to be the kind of logic you are implying here.
Can you see what  kind of mistakes he makes? (Hint: they are underlined.)

5 December 2011

Those silly pseudo-scientists

Listen to this guy, John Lennox, explaining why science cannot explain everything. His argument is this:
Someone makes a cake (it is his aunt, Matilda). The chemists can tell what elements the cake consists of. The physicists can tell the particles comprising the atoms in the cake. The mathematicians can describe the equations of motion of these particles. But can we assert that the cake was completely explained? Suppose we ask the experts why the cake was made. They can't tell! But, aunt Matilda can! Of course she can, because she made the cake herself.

I've heard this fellow use this idiotic argument several times in the past. Live. With this argument, he wants to "prove" that science has its limits. And, therefore, he implies that (his) god exists.  Go figure.... The sad thing is not that John Lennox is (was) a mathematician (he is now a priest) at Oxford. It is that he has followers...

There is no limit to human idiocy: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." (Einstein)

30 November 2011


November is almost gone, and I have posted almost nothing. Too much work, I guess. Here's what caught my attention recently. The term "flip-flopping" of politicians, with proof. There we go (source):
1) Barack Obama.
2) Mitt Romney.

15 November 2011

Funeral office windows, in Sweden

Windows of shops in Uppsala are not quite the most attractive sights of the town. If you have a visitor, don't take her (or him) for window shopping, (unless they happen to have fallen in coma in a remote Soviet village in the eighties, and just recovered from it). Many a times, they consist of nondescript arrangements of random objects, loosely resembling the products of the shop, e.g. a few scattered hairbrushes (often with hair) in a beauty salon, or dull collections of dusty clothes in a neighbourhood fashion shop, and so on--you get the idea. I will have to expand on this in a future email, because looking at shop windows in Sweden is like a time warp. It's like going back to the seventies.

But the most interesting kind of windows are of funeral offices. Typically, we don't see much of decoration in a funeral office window. In most places I've been to they are plain, simple or have religious messages, depending on the type. But in Uppsala (and I think, more generally, in Sweden) some (or all?) funeral offices have very interesting windows. Here is one from Uppsala:

It advertises its products: coffins. A closer look shows the "interesting" and "thoughtful" decoration: scattered stones underneath the coffin, a little (plastic of course) green bush, one side of the coffin standing on a (presumably empty) used can of sardines, a careful arrangement of (yes, you guessed it, plastic) flowers on top, next to a violin (not a Stradivarius, I'm sure). The coffin is locked (who knows why?).

"Interesting", I thought, when I first saw it. And I had to stop my car and take a picture.

31 October 2011

Turkish influenced Greek music by Japanese group

They're from Japan.
They're a bit crazy.
They're called PyramiDos.
They're pretty good.

I managed to navigate within the above Japanese webpage and found several of their music videos:
Herehere, and here.

Here is my favourite one:

This should be compared to the original, heavy duty (βαρύ κι ασήκωτο),  version by Stelios Kazantzidis:

P.S. Yavrum [γιαβρούμ] (turkish) = darling. 
Çiftetelli [τσιφτετέλι] = Turkish folk music incorporated into oriental dancing by Greeks.

29 October 2011

Swedish tabloid on mathematicians and gods

Earlier this year, some guy called Marcus Birro wrote a silly article in a Swedish tabloid called Expressen, where, among other things, he tells us that he couldn't undestand why use symbols instead of numbers in school, that he doesn't like mathematicians because they sit down all day doing nothing, that they have no feelings, and that, therefore (!!!), god exists.

I sent him the following email:
From: Takis Konstantopoulos
Date: Thu, Oct 27, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Subject: matematik och gudar
Mr Birro,

I "read" your article in Expressen, as far as I could understand it via google-translate. You are, actually, so very wrong about your impression of what a mathematician is. Mathematics is much more than what you learned in high school. Most likely, your teachers were pretty bad, uninspiring, boring,... just as many mathematics schoolteachers world-wide. They gave you the impression that doing mathematics with numbers is not the same as doing mathematics with letters. You do not understand that 1, 2, 3, and so on, are mere symbols, just as a, b, c. You do not understand that mathematics is not about numbers. You also do not understand what a proof means. I do not blame you. I also do not understand how DNA works, because I lack knowledge of biology and chemistry. However, I do understand that molecular biologists are not spending their time merely memorizing the sequence of atoms comprising a DNA molecule. Just as I understand that a journalist doesn't, simply, take a piece of gossip he or she has heard from his or her buddies and write an article about it. I'm afraid you have not done your homework and are simply expressing an opinion which is the equivalent of shouting slogans in a football match.

I will not try to comment on your opinion of god or gods. (Who knows how many there are?) Your proof of existence of gods is that mathematicians are useless. How absurd!  Think a little bit, if you can, and see how unsubstantiated your claims are. I can tell you that no mathematical formula can measure what is happening in my heart when reading a poem of Cavafy, just as no formula can measure what is happening in your heart when you read a poem by Dan Andersson (in your words). But this is neither an argument against mathematics, nor an argument for the existence of gods, my friend. What is happening in our hearts, the love you feel for your children, is what is happening in other primates' hearts too. Being the product of a complicated evolution, which is beyond your understanding (and mine, for that matter), love and hate, and the ability to write silly articles like the one you did, emotions and feelings keep us alive and can be explained via chemistry and physics and biology and neuroscience. But you have to be patient for science to evolve too. And also try very very very hard to understand (some) science and learn (some) mathematics.

The easy solution is to say "gods exist and therefore this explains the love I feel". And you think you're done. This is the lazy approach. Just as the fact that I need an incredible amount of training in order to play a little piano piece well, so you too (and everybody who is outside a field) need a lot of training in science and mathematics in order to be able to understand why letters and numbers can express human thought and lead to a proof. However, even though I do not have the time (or ability) to learn piano like, say, Andrei Gavrilov, I can and do appreciate not only his playing, but also his effort and thinking. Why? because I can compare judiciously. Likewise, even though you may have no time (or ability) to learn any mathematics, you can, with a bit of effort and comparison and extrapolation, appreciate something which lies beyond your sphere of understanding.

Just try it. You can.

And then you can correct your article.
Takis Konstantopoulos
He hasn't replied to me. I wonder why.

27 October 2011

Greek debt and German concern

No doubt, the Greek financial crisis is due to, among others,
(i) politicians' greed (they did put a lot of money in their pockets, and still possess them),
(ii) the politicians' slackness in collecting taxes (they didn't want to, they themselves and their friends would have to pay taxes and that was not in their plan),
(iii) Europe's turning a blind eye to Greek financial reports (everybody and their mother knew that Greeks were faking their papers, come on!) .

However, here is an alternative piece of information which should make Germans, now pointing fingers towards Greece, reflect upon their recent history.

According to Albrecht Ritchl, professor of Economic History at LSE, the largest debtor of all times is Germany. In the June 2011 issue of Der Spiegel, Ritchl gave an interview (original German version here) pointing out that
during the 20th century, Germany was responsible for what were the biggest national bankruptcies in recent history. It is only thanks to the United States, which sacrificed vast amounts of money after both World War I and World War II, that Germany is financially stable today and holds the status of Europe's headmaster. That fact, unfortunately, often seems to be forgotten.
This happened twice. First, during the Weimar Republic, and then after WWII. The US helped Germany on both occasions tremendously, but it was also agreed that
there wouldn't be a repeat of high reparations demands made on Germany.
That is, that Germany would not have to pay its war victims. This was the actual financial basis of the German Wirtschaftswunder.  In fact,
[w]ith only a few exceptions, all such demands were put on the backburner until Germany's future reunification.
As we know, reunification took place, but Germany did not pay reparation. I don't think it's only Germany's fault. It's likely that Greek politicians didn't ask for it loud enough for they didn't want to. They had money pouring in their pockets via Europe, why should they want to make their benefactors unhappy, reminding them that Greece lost 10% of its population due to WWII casualties (one of the largest losses in the world, after Poland and Soviet Union)? As Ritchl says,
[c]ompared to [the Weimar Republic] default, today's Greek payment problems are actually insignificant
and that
[i]f the mood in [Greece] turns, old claims for reparations could be raised, from other European nations as well. And if Germany ever had to honor them, we would all be taken the cleaners. Compared with that, we can be grateful that Greece is being indulgently reorganized at our expense. If we follow public opinion here with its cheap propaganda and not wanting to pay, then eventually the old bills will be presented again. 
This is something to keep in mind. The Greek elite consists, of course, of unreliable politicians and their buddies who have faked papers, stolen money, avoided taxation, asked Greeks to borrow more, made them believe they live and can live in luxury without working, numbing their brains with false hopes... But, on the other hand, who is shouting to whom? Read some history and see that the whole of Europe has been a mess.

I don't know what "the solution" could be. I'm afraid that one of the most difficult things to acquire is not money, but the right mentality (what does work mean?). And this is lacking in Greece. But, at the same time, lack of the right mentality of different sorts is encountered in other countries as well. By shouting and finger-pointing you cannot eliminate history. Unless you can make people forget it, and this is something that frequently happens. In history. (History is being constantly revised to reflect the point of view of those in power, the winners.)

23 October 2011

What's happening to the creationist "Dr" Sungenis?

I'm wondering what's going on these days with those creationists who believe that the universe turns around them. They are called geocentrists and it seems that one of their chieftains is "Dr" Robert Sungenis. I have no idea what his motives are (other than sheer idiocy) to claim that the Earth is still. I became aware of this species last year, when I said "damn! I missed the conference" and then posted about them here, here and here.I was fortunate enough to attract the attention of "Dr" Sungenis who kindly wrote to me:
Takis, Robert Sungenis here. Here's a good way to prove your point: since you are a "professor of science," give us just one proof of heliocentrism, and we'll go away. Promise. Make sure the proof is one that can hold up under scrutiny, because we are going to run it through scientific rigor to make sure you're right and then post it on your blog. By the way, the earth is round. Perhaps you can start your proof from there. Looking forward to hearing from you.
 When I pointed out to him that his label "Dr", well, is not quite what it says,
I took a look at your credentials here and here. You tried to study in accredited institutions but you were rejected. You then found a non-accredited institution, Calamus Extension College, which offers degrees (by correspondence) on such crackpottery subjects as Holistic Studies, Homeopathy, Contemporary Spirituality, Regression and Reincarnation Studies (!!!), Parapsychology, Metaphysics, Hypnotherapy, Healing Studies, Transpersonal Psychology (including reincarnation, psychosynthesis and spirit release), Esoteric Studies, and Consciousness Studies, among others. Every possible bogus subject is mentioned. I have never seen a place offering so much junk altogether. You got your PhD from this institution in 2006 on geocentrism. Your credentials are not just zero, but negative: anyone who comes in contact with subjects such as the ones mentioned above is probably brain-damaged. Despite the very likely fact that you do not know elementary algebra, you have the guts to speak about Relativity in relation to your theological claims. How can anyone understand, not relativity, but even elementary Euclidean geometry, with a degree from Calamus Extension College? Impossible!
he stopped talking to him. Imagine, a degree from Calamus Extension College who is used as evidence of one's ability to support elementary Newtonian mechanics concepts. As I said, impossible. Show me one person from Calamus Extenstion College who can solve a first order linear differential equation in one dimension, and I'd be really surprised.

Yesterday, I watched a little video from youtube, where Sungenis and another religious guy attack one another because they are both Christian, but each claims that the other person is not the right kind of Christian. At some point, the other guy tells Sungenis "you believe whatever the Catholic church tells you". "Yeah", replies Sungenis, "because that is the authority". From the whole dialog, it appears that Sungenis just bows to whatever the Catholic church tells him, because, in his words, it is an established authority for 2000 years. He says that he"has the "right pedigree" [sic] (by being a member of an authority organization), whereas the other Christian does not (because he only reads the bible).

Finally, I'd like to point out the interesting review of a talk that Sungenis gave. The review is by Flora, but I first saw on Gem Newman's Winnipeg Skeptics page,

20 September 2011

Official driving licence photo

(Thanks Lisa for pointing this out. Please feel free to comment.)

A European driving licence photograph is subject to strict regulations. One of them states that headgear is only allowed for confessional reasons, i.e. if it is part of the driver's religion.

Mr Niko Alm applied for licence three years ago demanding that he wear a pasta strainer on his head. He claimed it was part of his religion, pastafarianism, or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And he managed to obtain his licence with the photo he needed:

This is a very good practical application of rationality. Indeed, there is absolutely no commonly agreed definition of what a religion is. Informally, something is classified as religion if it has been around for a while, if it has lots of devotees, if it does not go against the political status quo, etc. But none of these things is well-defined, nor has it ever been legalized. So, it is perfectly logical for someone to start a religion.

By acting as Mr Alm, eventually, will force society to properly define "religion". Or try to. And then there will be chaos, for there is no definition that fits all, neither one that will encompass religions to be.

We need examples, and counterexamples, in order to test a theory. Despite the efforts of Tony Blair to unify religions, this cannot happen. For sure, there will be one or more religions left out.

Let us start thinking, then, what on Earth constitutes a religion? Why is religion A better than B?--oops, I'm not allowed to say so! So why are all religions equal?--oops, but then I may have to include loonies like these, who get together and "speak in tongues".

So, congratulations to Mr Alm, for posing the right question. In his words,
"I am ridiculing the authorities," he said. "If anybody is offended there is nothing I can do, but I am offended too, if logic and reason is offended."

17 September 2011

Mathematics screening test for university students

I am writing this in response to my friend Joe who tends to believe that things in US education are bad. In fact, for anyone who thinks that things are bad in the particular place he or she happens to work.

This is a screening test I gave to second year university students (school of mathematical sciences of a UK  university I worked at earlier). The rationale behind a screening test is to alert the students that they should not take a further course without having basic skills acquired in earlier courses and that, if they have not learnt earlier material, they should repeat the courses before proceeding further.

The front page of the linked document contains statistics of students' responses. The remaining pages contain the questions I asked, together with sample responses. I would say that out of 60 students who took the test, there was probably one who could, perhaps, qualify as a university student. The remaining ones had no clue.

Although the document is self-explanatory, here are some of the questions, along with the most funny answers:

Q:  Given two polynomials $p(x) = \sum_{k=0}^n a_k x^k$ and $q(x) = \sum_{k=0}^m b_k x^k$, express the coefficient of the term $x^k$ of the product $r(x) = p(x)q(x)$ in terms of the coefficients $(a_k)$ and $(b_k)$.
A: $a_{k^{1/2}} b_{k^{1/2}}$.

Q: Define the concept of the derivative of a function $f : R \rightarrow R$ at a point $x$.
A: This is the distance of the point $x$ from the origin on a plain  [sic].

Q: Explain what we mean by the integral $\int_0^1 f(x) dx$ of a function $f : [0; 1]  \rightarrow R$. (The answer "area under the curve" is not acceptable.)
A: By integrating this function, we are being asked to calculate an area, and by providing definate [sic] integrals, the question asks us to provide a specific area.

Q: In how many ways can you put 5 indistinguishable balls in 7 distinctly numbered boxes and why?
A: 21/5.

Q: Expand $(a + b)^5$, where $a, b$ are real numbers.
A: $(a + b)^5 = \binom{a}{0} + \binom{a}{1} a^4 b + \binom{a}{2} \frac{a^3 b^2}{2!} + \binom{a}{3} \frac{a^2 b^3}{3!} + \binom{a}{4} \frac{ab^4}{4!} + \binom{a}{5} \frac{b^5}{5!}$.

Q: Compute the (indefinite) integral $\int dx/\sqrt{x}$.
A: $-2u+C$.

The huge problem in education, around the world, is that the meaning of the verb "to learn" is frequently disassociated from the verb "to understand". This is convenient for students. It is also convenient for many teachers who do not want to bother to understand and explain. It is convenient for politicians. It is convenient for administrators. In short, it is convenient for everyone. Except that the result is the production of generations of students who get a degree in, say, mathematics, but know very little mathematics. What is worse, is that they think they know. It is more dangerous to have people who believe they know rather than people who know they do not know (and, therefore, may try to learn whenever necessary). Someone who is convinced of his/her skills will do nothing to improve them.

An example of bad mathematics textbooks for schoolchildren

A friend of mine sent me the following entry from a mathematics textbook for schoolchildren in the US around the age of 12. Here is a question asked, together with the suggested solution:
Question: Tell whether the following events are dependent or independent. If they are independent, find the probability that both events occur.
Event C: Choosing the letter F from a bag containing the alphabet.
Event D: Choosing the letter V from a bag containing the alphabet after already choosing F and not replacing the letter.
Solution: Events C and D are dependent events. Once a letter has been picked from the bag and not replaced, it changes the probability of picking another letter from the bag.
Here is the problem with the way the question is formulated. In defining event D, the writer of this has inserted the description of the sample space. Instead of clearly defining the experiment first and then the events, he/she mixed the two things together in defining the event D. The result is confusion. The correct way of stating the problem is:
We have a bag containing the 26 letters of the alphabet. We pick a letter at random, put it away, and then pick another letter at random and put it away. Define the following events:
Event C: The first letter we pick is F.
Event D: The second letter we pick is V.
Question: Determine whether the two events are independent or not.
The suggested solution is even more confusing. It says that events C and D are dependent (correct, provided you have understood what event D is, i.e., what the author wanted to say but did not say), but the explanation given is not very good: "Once a letter has been picked from the bag and not replaced, it changes the probability of picking another letter from the bag." It changes the probability of what? What does the changing of a probability have to do with the definition of dependence?

Let's see first what the correct solution is:
P(C) clearly equals 1/26.
P(D) also equals 1/26.
The reason is: From the definition of event D, as an event which has nothing to do with whatever we picked at the first pick, and because of symmetry, we can see that P(D)=1/26 as well. What I mean by this is the following: if, say, the letters were arranged in a random order on a line and defined event C to be the leftmost letter, while D the right most one, then it would have been even clearer that P(C)=P(D). This is why the two probabilities are the same.
As for the probability P(C & D) of their intersection we have 
P(C & D) = P(C) P(D | C) = (1/25) x (1/26).

The reason is this:  P(D | C) can be computed on the new sample space containing 25 letters because we are conditioning on having picked the letter F first. Since there are 25 letters remaining, we have P(D | C) = 1/25.
Since P(D & C)  ≠  P(D) P(C), it follows that C and D are dependent events.
A clearly stated problem, and a logical solution is the only way that the kids in the school can learn something which they can subsequently find useful. The kids will remember, even subconsciously, these kind of things and if they have been taught incorrectly, they will have to unlearn everything when they go to the university (provided--this is an assumption--that their university teachers know how to teach or bother to do so).

No wonder why when people ask me what I do for living and I say mathematics they invariable give the same response: "Oh, I was so bad in mathematics at school." "I understand", I reply. "but, most likely, so was your teacher".

P.S. My friend also told me the following idiotic question the kids get in their mathematics class:
Question: What do you call the shape whose area is given by the formula L⋅H?
There is no end to idiocy in this world. 

16 September 2011

Swedish sunset

Nordic darkness will be here soon. Meanwhile, we're getting some nice sunsets. The photo below was taken yesterday in front of  Ångströmlaboratoriet.

15 September 2011

Three Swedish fetishes

Moving from one country to another makes it easy to observe the differences and things which are unique to a particular place. It is much easier for a newcomer to spot them than for people who've lived in the country all their lives. I've noticed at least three things which seem to be uniquely Swedish, in the sense that they exist in abundance and are really loved by people in Sweden. I decided to call them Swedish fetishes because these things are useless, probably addictive, and serve no real purpose.

Fetish no. 1: Candy
If you've ever been to one of the American-style cinemas you cannot fail but notice rows upon rows of stinky, sticky, sickly candy. If your olfactory system works well, then, probably, you'll want to go past them quickly so that you don't have to vomit.
It's really a huge surprise to see that this kind of junk food exists in abundance in Sweden, not only in cinemas, but, really, everywhere: in petrol stations, in supermarkets, in convenience stores, at the university, in the hospital cantine, on the streets (whenever vendors go out), at train stations...
There is no end to the amount of candy that is available in Sweden, everywhere and at all points of time. Sweden is a country where everything closes early. However, candy you can find at almost all times. It is even served during official meetings. You may be out at night searching for milk, which may be hard to find. But candy, you will find, with little difficulty:

Police scooping candy in huge quantities, around 11 pm, on 10 September 2011:
It is rather suprising, but Swedes consume more candy than Americans per person. In fact, it seems that Sweden is the world leader in candy consumption per capita (excluding chocolate). To prove my point further (that Swedes have some kind of peculiar relationship with sweets), here is a recent TV advertisement. In it, we see children with three mouths (!?), evolved this way so that they can consume more candy. Yes, it is quite disturbing image. Enjoy:

Fetish no 2: Tatoo magazines.
"Why are there so many tatoo magazines in Sweden?", I asked a colleague a few months ago. He didn't know. In fact, he hadn't observed it. As I mentioned above, it is easier for a newcomer to spot the differences. To prove my point, I went to the local Pressbyrån and took a picture:
You can perhaps count 27 tatoo magazines in the middle shelf. This number should be compared with the boats magazines (12), the number of newsmagazines (11), etc. Not only is there an amazing large number of tatoo magazines in the shop, but that number is the largest of magazines of all kinds.

Truly peculiar.

Sometime later, I went to another shop in Gothenburg. Same story:
Here you can count about 24 tatoo magazines.
The question, then, is why? Why are there so many customers attracted to tatoo magazines? The obvious answer that people are attracted to the women on the covers and inside is not satisfying. There is something else, and this is something that has to do with Sweden. I don't know what it is.
There are definitely more tatoo magazines in a Swedish magazine shop than in an American shop. Even rednecks don't have the need to consult so many magazines for their body modification.

Fetish no. 3: Old (mostly junk) American cars.
Uppsala is a city with not so wide streets, and a huge number of bicyclists. Once in a while, however, the city is transformed by the peculiar site of platoons of old, mostly ugly, junk, American cars, occupied by a large number of passengers, all of which sit packed together on the front seat, drunk and loud and proudly driving their pile of metal, obviously feeling a sense of achievement, demonstrating their possession to pedestrians who do not have the chance of having a vehicle of this sort in their backyard.

The drivers want to be seen, to be noticed. The other day there was even an American car show in Uppsala. A huge number of cars, probably in the hundreds, had come to Uppsala, parked in a central area. Their owners were dressed like American rednecks and many of them had beer bellies as well! Why would anyone in the world try to behave like a redneck is totally incomprehensible. I hope, however, that the Swedish redneck-wannabes do not have the essential tool of the redneck trade: a gun-rack full of guns. But who knows?

One is inclined to conjecture that Sweden has the largest number of redneck-wannabed than any other country besides redneckland. But I lack statistics, so I will refrain from formulating this kind of conjecture.

20 August 2011

University of Texas shootings, II

About a year ago, someone went in the University of Texas campus and started shooting at random. Finally he shot himself to death. Fortunately, nobody (else) was killed.

I commented on this in a previous posting. I mentioned, inter alia, a personal experience, and also linked a news video
showing a policeman apparently stating that  students should be mentally prepared that, now and then, a gunman may show up on campus and advises them to be alert.
I concluded my posting by the following observation:
I wouldn't be surprised if further advice was given that people should carry guns in order to protect themselves. This is not uncommon in the US. Instead of trying to put a restriction on guns when fatalities happen, it is peculiar that they want exactly the opposite: they are convinced that gun fatalities can only be prevented by more guns.
For it is often the case that Americans respond to gun fatalities by acquiring more guns.

And here is a response I received, recently, by an angry commenter who doesn't dare reveal his identity:
Absurd, huh? Except for the fact that whenever guns are taken away, crime goes up. Criminals don't worry about getting guns, they get them, they always get them. It's the law abiding people that turn them in. Get your data straight. Idiot. You typical bleeding heart liberal.
There is a link between gun supporters and religious freaks. In my opinion, it is self-righteousness. They think that they are better than others (because, say, their god(s) speak(s) directly to them) and impose their will by "rolling up their sleeves and beat the others up". Just as Lao Tze described in Tao Te Ching, Ch. 38. Obama was right when, in 2008, remarked:
"They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Of course, back then, this was seen as a blunder. Obama (who I don't believe is really religious) had to play his cards right and be seen to go to church; otherwise, he would have decreased his chances of being elected.

Back to my point then: The angry commenter above really expresses the average gun owner in the US: Guns save life. Yes, in a society where guns are so much accepted, several people grow up by wanting more of them. One can't get rid of deeply rooted evils. It's just like religion: in a society where religion is the norm, you are an outcast if you don't go to church. I really feel sorry for friends in Midwest where they have to struggle to keep up with their neighbours' rejection just because they don't care to go to (any) church. They have no guns either.

Oh, incidentally, the typical bleeding heart liberal comment about me above makes me crack up.

Malagueña facil (and the last few seconds of it)

Malagueña facil is a piece of music for classical guitar, composed by Francisco Tárrega. The composer, Tárrega, bearing the name of  the small town in Cataluña, was a classical guitarist  

of the romantic period who laid the foundations of classical guitar, as we know it now. He was the teacher of  Emilio Pujol and Miguel Llobet. The malagueñas is one of the traditional styles of flamenco music from Andaluzía. In composing it, Tárrega was probably inspired by the gypsies: as a teenager, he ran away from home to join the gypsies in Valencia.This particular piece was titled "malagueña facil", i.e. "easy malagueña", but it is nothing but (too) easy. Indeed, playing it in its proper tempo requires the kind of dexterity that a folk guitarist (a gypsy, say) has when playing flamenco. There are many poor performances (including mine) on the internet and elsewhere, but the following one I find superb:

The last 15 seconds of the piece (from 1:05 until the end in the video above) are the most challenging ones, most difficult to get right. (To wit, click on other performances on youtube.) This performer gets them just right. And these 15 seconds make all the difference in the world.

5 August 2011

Sect or religion?

I really don't understand what the difference is between a sect and a religion. It appears that the only difference is political. For some Christians, Jehova's witnesses is a sect. For some Muslims, Sufism is a sect. Etc. It is totally arbitrary. Indeed, since religion (as well as all its off-spins, creationism, intelligent design, etc.), by definition, is based on hot air. What constitutes a sect can change with time and location.

Maybe you read today about a certain Warren Jeffs who was  convicted of sexual assault. The linked BBC article refers to his religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as "fundamentalist" and as a "sect". Why, I wonder. Why is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints more of a sect than, say, the religion headed by Patriarch Kirill I? It is a matter of convention.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is known for advocating polygamy. In fact, it seems that this is precisely what made it popular in the first place. Brigham Young, the 19th c. leader of this religion, had 55 wives. He used religion and god in order to justify this, and, apparently, had many followers. Today, there is a university which goes bears his name. Rather embarrassing, isn't it?

1 August 2011

Chimp feeds tiger

Here is another example of how primates can be trained to follow a  human-like behaviour. I just watched a BBC video showing a young chimpanzee, Dodo, feed a tiger cub from a bottle of milk. He has been doing so for a year. I always find animal behaviour fascinating (not least because it can make us aware of ourselves).

24 July 2011

Texas solves problems by ... prayer!

Look at this man:
He is Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. He recently announced that America is going through hard times, facing political and financial problems. He decided that the solution is to establish the 6th of August as "Day of Prayer and Fasting for Our Nation". Read more and watch his proclamation video here. He claims:
We believe that America is in a state of crisis. Not just politically, financially or morally, but because we are a nation that has not honored God in our successes or humbly called on Him in our struggles. 
The response, he continues, will be a gathering in Reliant Stadium (which will be air-conditioned)  in Houston on 6 August where Texans (and others) will be praying in order to solve America's problems:
I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.
Such pretentious events are happening all the time in Texas. Religion and state are intricately intertwined. I lived several  years in Texas and witnessed many such idiocies. One can really feel sick if one has to live in such a state. I couldn't stand it watching people declare that guns are necessarary to protect themselves from the devil. The more religious someone is in Texas the more likely is that he/she has all sorts of guns. They love religion and guns. The more they love one, the more they have of the other.

George W. Bush proclaimed 10 June 2000 to be Jesus day.  Rick Perry, his successor, decided that 6 August will be a prayer and fasting day. On this page, you can sign up for participating in the Houston event, and you can decide how many days in advance you are going to start the prayer and fasting. All that, sponsored not by a freaky religious organization but by a political unit: the State of Texas.

22 July 2011

Applied religion?

I wonder if there is any relation between, say, the desire of many to admire objects, or have idols, with the need of many to have a faith, a religion. I am, in this particular case, talking about the following piece of news:
Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress on display
My reaction is: Who cares? But, apparently, many do. Why? What is the need that drives them to do so? Could it be related to the (their) need for faith?

15 July 2011

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. Quran 4:34

The passage above from the Qu'ran is, supposedly, what makes women be (much) inferior  to men in Saudi Arabia and other theocratic regimes. This article from wikipedia describes the situation well. Saudi Arabia is one of the worst countries in the world regarding gender equality. What a striking difference from Sweden! Women are, literally, owned by men, just because a text written some 1500 years ago says so. There is child marriage too. Just like Mohammed married Aisha when she was 9 or 10 years old... The head veil which covers most of the head is not the worst thing that can happen to women there. Some women do want their heads to be covered (some don't, but they have no choice).
Stoning is still being practiced in Saudi Arabia. A woman found to have any relationship outside her marriage may be subject to the brutal punishment of death by stoning. By contrast, a man will not be punished in the same way. The suspicion alone of a woman’s wrong-doing can be enough for her to be subject to violence in the name of honor. In 2007, a young woman was murdered by her father for chatting with a man on facebook. Women lack in education, and, many times, education means memorization of large parts of the Qu'ran.

To be continued.

How to make the masses obey

 Suppose you are a leader of a big country. Say the Roman empire. Or Russia. What do you do to make people follow you? One way is to identify their religious tendencies and amplify them. You adopt, as state religion, the one which the majority of the people like. You then do a bit of marketing, preferably indirectly, and convince people that you, as a state leader, are chosen by the god(s) of the promoted religion. Then you are on a good path.

This is an almost sure recipe for success. Despite the fact that it has been employed hundreds of times in the human history, it still works! Why? Simply because people cannot reason independently of an authority.

Take, for instance, Constantine I, a.k.a. "Constantine the Great" or "Saint Constantine" (none of which adjectives has anything to do with his true nature). He sensed that his subjects were falling victims of a religion known as Christianity and so he declared he had a vision in which he was told to adopt the religion as official one for his empire. So he did. The devastating consequences are well-known.

Or take Vladimir Putin. A former KGB agent of the, supposedly atheist, Soviet Union, current prime minister of Russia, has been, for a few years now, officially endorsing Orthodox Christianity as official religion of Russia. Vladislav Surkov, Kremlin’s first deputy chief of staff, a staunch Putin supporter and one of Russia’s most powerful men, declared:
“I honestly believe that Putin is a person who was sent to Russia by fate and by the Lord at a difficult time for Russia.” “(Putin was) preordained by fate to preserve our peoples.” 
You can find the full story in Reuters, but I first saw it here. Reuters also reports that:
Two months ago, a nun-like sect appeared in central Russia claiming that Putin was a saint and a saviour. A spokesman said Putin "does not approve of that kind of admiration".
Indeed, Putin is modest. He does not approved that kind of admiration. Not yet, that is. However, recall that he wants to be buried next to Stalin, and that Stalin is often viewed as a "saint" by many Russians. See my earlier posting titled "Saint Joseph Stalin" for more information.

In order to justify their behavior, they turn their theories into dogmas, their bylaws into First Principles, their political bosses into Gods and all those who disagree with them into incarnate devils. This idolatrous transformation of the relative into the Absolute and the all too human into the Divine, makes it possible for them to indulge their ugliest passions with a clear conscience and in the certainty that they are working for the Highest Good. And when the current beliefs come, in their turn, to look silly, a new set will be invented, so that the immemorial madness may continue to wear its customary mask of legality, idealism, and true religion. --Aldous Huxley

11 July 2011

Canción de la Hilandera

Canción de la Hilandera (song of the spinning wheel) is a piece of music written by Agustín Barrios Mangoré in 1933. It uses the tremolo technique and evokes the rythmic sound of a spinning wheel. Barrios was a genius. One of the most prolific guitar composers, his work was late-Romantic in character, music belonging to the past, even for his era. He spoke Guaraní and liked to dress like the native people of his country, Paraguay. The following performance of the canción de la Hilandera is very good:

10 July 2011

Sweden's 'gender-neutral' pre-school

This is very funny. Below are some excerpts, without comments. The rest can be read at the recent BBC article.

Egalia: new *public* pre-school in Stockholm. An experiment in making little children behave the way they want without paying attention to their gender; in fact, the teachers will discourage them from referring to one another by using personal pronouns like "he" and "she". In Swedish, "he" is "han" and "she" is "hon". They will switch to "hen"--a nonexistent word in Swedish.

The books have been carefully selected to avoid traditional presentations of gender and parenting roles. So, out with the likes of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, and in with, for example, a book about two giraffes who find an abandoned baby crocodile and adopt it.

As for toys, if the boys want to play with dolls, or if the girls want to play with tractors, that is fine. At Egalia boys are free to dress up and to play with dolls, if that is what they want to do.

They want to change society and make childre forget their gender, from early on. Gender researchers have convinced politicians that the solution to all problems is a gender perspective.

But what is *very funny* is that The Egalia school - which is state-funded - is proving popular though, and boasts a long waiting list.

I moved to Sweden last year and some people told me that the government spends a lot of money into gender issues. I didn't know what they meant. But I heard funny things like, for instance, someone in the university claiming that when she first read that the mitochondrial DNA passes to children only through the mother, she thought "oh, yes, this is so feministic" [sic].

29 June 2011

A creationist professor from Warwick University

I discovered this video, by Prof. Steve Fuller, Sociology, Warwick University. The video is full of nonsense. E.g.,

1:50: "Very few practicing biologists claim to believe in intelligent design"

Why would a practicing biologist, or any scientist for that matter, believe in something, especially if this something is silly, like creationism? Actually, I can add to the above profound statement: Very few practicing biologists believe in unicorns.

But the worst point of the video, starts at 2:00 and has to do with Fuller trying to justify why creationism (intelligent design) should be taught at schools: He claims that it has to do with motivating students who nowadays won't try to learn something unless it has a practical or technical value. He implies that creationism (intelligent design) provides a motivation and this is why it should be embedded in biology classes (and not only--I suppose).

Can you find other stoopid things in this video?

P.S. Steve Fuller is American. Therefore he may have different reasons for promoting creationism. He was also educated by the Jesuits. (Religion, once under your skin, is hard to get rid of.)

26 June 2011

(Some of the) funny aspects of the Academy of Athens, II

I continue with another hilarious example about a member of the Academy of Athens. One of its members is a theoretical physicist who is known, in Greece, by a large number of common people, people who have nothing to do with physics or science. I've heard his name being mentioned by taxi drivers, manicurists and air hostesses, among others. He is, according to these people, the greatest scientist of all times.

His name is Dimitri Nanopoulos. But how come everyone knows him? On what basis do these people know this academician? Why is he so popular? Is he a popularizer of science? Some time ago I searched to find what's going on. I was very surpised when a mainstream Greek newspaper had a full-page dedicated to the advertisment of a car (Lexus) together with a picture of the aforementioned academician. Fair enough, I thought, he's trying to make some (more) money. But then I read the following phrase below his photo:
Professor Nanopoulos has achieved international reputation. Doing research mainly in Cosmology and High Energy Physics, he is considered today one of the four greatest theoretical physicists of all times.

Just as the distinguished theoretical physicist methodically "besieges" the next scientific revolution, so does Lexus constantly seeks perfection.
So, let's see: Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, and Nanopoulos. What about Richard Feynman, Freeman Dyson, Lev Landau, Henri Poincare, ... , ... ? Well, according to the Lexus advertisement, there is no doubt. The set must contain 4 people. One of them is Nanopoulos.

But where does this claim come from, and what does it mean? I looked further.  According to wikipedia,
He is one of the most regularly cited researchers in the world, cited more than 35,800 times over across a number of separate branches of science.
So, perhaps, the phrase "greatest number of citations" has been changed to "greatest scientist". Is that so? Does number of citations necessarily mean greateness? Yes, says Nanopoulos.

Shortly after the advertisement appeared in several Greek newspapers, in a public letter, 12 emminent Greek physicists write:
[Nanopoulos] knows well that such comments are at the border of being ridiculous, provocatively insulting one's intelligence, and denigrate the Greek scientific community.
Moreover, the 12 scientists ask the president of Greece to be careful when appointing such a self-bragging person to positions of responsibility, such as the president of the Council of Research and Technology (and others).

Nanopoulos replied by characterizing the authors of the letter as "scientists" [i.e. scientists in quotes], and mentioned that people like Al Gore also advertize various products [yes, but Gore is not a scientist]. He also said:
Regarding my achievements in the domain of science, I attach my CV as well as a comparative table of my works and citations, without comment.
In the attached table, he lists the total number of citations to the 12 other scientists (26862) and compares it to the number of citations to his own papers (31412). Therefore [he implies], I am better than the sum of all these other "scientists".

There is another comparison he makes, and this is ridiculous. It concerns the so-called h-index:
A scientist has index h if h of [his/her] Np papers have at least h citations each, and the other (Np − h) papers have at most h citations each.
This silly measure of success was devised several years ago and is taken seriously by lazy administrators, but not by scientists. It is well known (i) that citations alone do not measure one's greateness and (ii) that it is not too hard to boost up one's citations by forming alliances. Moreover, not all citations are necessarily positive (I can cite a paper for its wrong results). However, not only has the h-index (and a variety of other indices) has been glorified, but a "science" has also been formed, the so-called Bibliometrics or Scientometrics. For instance, it is not hard to find papers looking at statistics of indices and "mathematics" of indices. The drive to summarize one's achievements by a single number has thus provided jobs to many other people who can now write papers on citation indices, thereby increasing their own citations!

A good critique of the lunacy around the h-index and other bibliometrical concepts is the paper "Citation Statistics", by Robert Adler, John Ewing and Peter Taylor, a report from the International Mathematical Union (IMU) in cooperation with the International Council of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM) and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS):
The drive towards more transparency and accountability in the academic world has created a "culture of numbers" in which institutions and individuals believe that fair decisions can be reached by algorithmic evaluation of some statistical data; unable to measure quality (the ultimate goal), decision makers replace quality by numbers that they can measure. This trend calls for comment from those who professionally “deal with numbers”— mathematicians and statisticians.
 To summarize:
  1. A Greek academician, D. Nanopoulos, uses the h-index as a measure of his achievements. This can be witnessed in numerous web cites, in his talks, in his wikipedia entry, in his letter to the President of  Greece, etc.
  2. His having one of the greatest number of citations (and a big h-index) has been [presumably] translated and equated to his being one of the four greatest physicists of all times.
  3. The car company Lexus has used this, presumably in cooperation with Nanopoulos, to advertize their car.
Something is fundamentally wrong with all that. Perhaps it is because Nanopoulos is a professor in a horrible place, Texas A&M, where the heat, the conservatism, the guns around you, the pressure towards being the biggest (it's Texas) can drive you crazy. Nanopoulos is also being advertized as "a constant claimant of a Nobel prize"... As I said, funny things happen at the Academy of Athens....

22 June 2011

(Some of the) funny aspects of the Academy of Athens, I

A recent article by D. Gousetis criticized the Greek Academicians:
There is an institution whose members are supposed to be the leading intellectuals [of the country]. This is the Academy of Athens [i.e. the Greek Academy of Sciences]. According to its founding principles, the Academy of Athens aims, inter alia, at the scientific research and study of the national economy and the preparation of guidelines and suggestions for the benefit of state institutions and authorities. This is precisely what the country needs today. Instead, however, [the Academy of Athens] remains blissfully silent. The worst of all is that its members receive a salary as high as that of a member of the parliament, in [sharp] contrast to the academicians of rich countries, like USA or France, whose title is honorary, without salary. Their silence was not disturbed even when it was revealed that their former chairman [of the Academy] was a plagiarist: [the Academy] continues to sell the product of plagiarism [his book] in its bookstore.
Indeed, it is very true that the high-profile mathematician Nikolaos Artemiadis wrote a book on the history of mathematics in 2000 which was, in 2004, translated and published by the American Mathematical Society (AMS) under the title "History of Mathematics: From a Mathematician's Vantage Point". It was soon proven that the book is an ineptly plagiarized version of Morris Kline’s Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times. See the letter of Seth Braver, Univ. of Montana, to the AMS for explanation (page 718). On page 719, there is a reply by John Ewing, Executive Director of the AMS, stating that the AMS discontinues the publication of Artemiadis' book forever:
The American Mathematical Society views plagiarism with the utmost seriousness. When Braver brought this matter to our attention, we immediately ceased all sales of the book, reviewed the evidence he had presented, and gathered further evidence of our own. Based on that review, we decided to discontinue publication of the book permanently.
However, the Academy of Athens still continues to sell Artemiadis' book, not caring about the fact that it is plagiarized. As I wrote earlier, the German minister, Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, resigned when it was revealed that parts of his PhD thesis had been copied from the Internet (without citations). But in Greece, at least one academician (I am being told he's not the only one) remains in his highly paid position, without any repercussions for stealing from another book.

Meanwhile, Greeks keep protesting about the financial crisis and some of them expect solutions... From whom?

10 June 2011

Informative signposts

I found this picture on the Internet.The signposts for Alexandoupoli/Feres/Soufli do the opposite of providing too little information.
The first post warns the driver to take the exit in 1000 m.
There is a second post 100 m further down.
Just in case the driver is absent-minded, there is a reminder that the exit is in 600 m.
And then there is another one 400 m before the exit.
Probably there is a final one at the exit, but the picture gets out of focus and I can't tell.
(Who said that Greek signposts are non-informative?)

4 June 2011

What's so wrong with Kentucky?

  1. The Creation Museum: In 2007, a museum promoting pseudo-science was established. It cost them 27 million USD. It promotes fake concepts, such as that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, that humans co-existed with dinosaurs, that the christian bible contains scientific information, that creationism/intelligent design is a science, among others. The museum has 250 thousand visitors a year. The motto of the museum is: Welcome and Prepare to Believe. What else could be more at odds with the scientific method? There is no science which instructs you, dogmatically, to believe. Rather, science asks you to question everything. But this is hard, very hard to do. And this is why (one of the reasons that) there are still many people who "read" science in the bible or visit the creation museum: they have no ability to do science. It's much easier to pay a few dollars for a ticket to the museum, enjoy a diet coke with marshmallows, spend a couple of hours listening to the priests walking around in the museum (yes, the museum also employs professional christians) and then go home having convinced yourself that you are equipped with more scientific knowledge than those "losers" who go to university and study hard and work day and night trying to question, explore, and discover.
  2. The Ark Encounter: Since the bible mentions that once upon a time, there was a man called Noah who made a boat and saved many animals from a flood, this is taken a historical fact by the folk above who, having had great success with the Creation Museum, are now building an even more costly gadget, a recreation of Noah's Arc (150 million USD).
The organization behind both projects is called Answers in Genesis.They promote creationism and intelligent design and try hard to instill false information to people's minds. It is a complete fraud. Yet, since it makes many morons feel happy, it receives a lot of support and many people are prepared to give their money to them.

Long live the idiocy in this world.

29 May 2011

Revised date for the end of the world

My third posting on this idiocy, but I can't help it. It IS funny:
Mr Harold Camping who predicted that the end of the world would take place on 21 May 2011, has now revised his opinion. He claims that the world DID end on 21 May 2011 (did you notice?) but that was a "spiritual" end:
“I was truly wondering what is going on. In my mind, I went back through all of the promises God has made, all of the proofs, all of the signs and everything was fitting perfectly, so what in the world happened? I really was praying and praying and praying, oh Lord, what happened?” 

 He continued by saying that the real end will be on 21 October 2011.

If he was the only idiot in the world claiming all that crap, nobody would raise an eybrow. The problem is that he has many followers. These morons, not only go around shouting, demonstrrating, and looking for attention, but also support Camping financially.  (In 2009, he reported $18.3 million in donations and assets of more than $104 million, including $34 million in stocks.) He was asked whether he would return the money to his followers. He replied thus:
"We’re not at the end. Why would we return it?" 
Indeed, indeed. The guy plans to return the money AFTER the end.

Why are there so many idiots? Why is there such a great stupidity in the world? Can it be explained scientifically? What makes one want to be a sheer moron? Camping could very well be smart: after all, he makes millions from his followers. But why are there followers in the first place? There are so many people in the world who cannot think independently but want a father-figure, someone to obey. This figure could be a businessman (like Camping), or a politician, or a king, or a god, etc.

I think that the major success of all totalitarian regimes lies not so much in the power of the dictators but in the sheer obedience of a large fraction of people. And when I say "totalitarian regime", I also speak metaphorically. I refer not only to a dictatorship, but also to religion, to an organization, to an  institution, etc.

There must be some kind of explanation for the need of people to submit themselves to mental or physical slavery and behave moronically. Some day we'll understand. And, perhaps, we can find a cure (for those who wish to be cured of their stupidity.)


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