3 March 2011

More on titles

I knew it. When I questioned the ridiculous habit of many to attach lots and lots of titles in their names, when I wondered why on Earth a man, with an already sizeable and doubly aristocratic name, Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, wanted to change it to Dr. Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, I suspected there is something more to the story.

Indeed, we read today, in a  BBC Berlin report:
German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after admitting copying large parts of his doctoral thesis. But why was he so keen to be a doctor in the first place?
Why, indeed!.
You would think that Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg had enough titles.
He did. He had a VON, he had a ZU, and he was a BARON.
In Germany, the "von" and "zu" denote aristocracy and he has both. And the word "Freiherr" means "Baron".
Don't forget that he won't lose his aristocracy titles. These were given to him at birth. Regardless of whether he deserved them or not. Neither will he lose his money. He's already rich. Too rich.
But if you want real clout in politics, being a doctor is desirable and that was his downfall. The title in front of even such a grand name is desirable, but not if it is the product of the work of others.
He will only lose one title, the DR, the only one that he tried to earn with his own work. Unfortunately, he didn't think that stealing a bit left and right was all that bad.
Indeed, he finally admitted that his zeal to add the extra two letters, Dr, in front of his name made him plagiarise his thesis by copying parts of it from the Internet. 
Too bad, Mr. Baron Von and Zu. If you kept the title, it's not so much that anything bad would happen, but it's unfair for others who do have titles and have them for work they've done. Oh, by the way, many of those people were not fortunate enough to have a zu and a von. Some of them don't even have a single von or a single zu.

Titles should--in principle--represent something. I used to work for a university where it was possible to get promoted from senior lecturer to professor simply for administrative work, e.g. for serving as a chairman. In Academia itself, there are many instances were titles are abused. But it would be nice (wishful thinking) to have a reality check from time to time.

I used to daydream and ask: Would it not be nice, and fair, to give, from time to time, a Maths exam to all Maths professors and see if their performance is up to date? Or a Physics exam to Physics professors? This would be a reality check. And it should be fair.

A title, no matter how big it is, should not be big enough so that it hides inadequacies of its owner.

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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