The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Archive for November 2007

Bertrand Russell in Bollywood

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This is for real: Bertrand Russell featured in a Hindi film.

Wikipedia confirms it:

Russell made a cameo appearance playing himself in the anti-war Bollywood film “Aman” which was released in India in 1967. This was Russell’s only appearance in a feature film.

as does IMDB page for Aman (1967):

Bertrand Russell … Himself.

And without this movie, Bertrand Russell might not have had the finite Erdős–Bacon number that he does. His Bacon number is four, going through this sole tenuous link:

Bertrand Russell was in Aman (1967) with Brahm Bhardwaj
Brahm Bhardwaj was in Kaalia (1981) with Ranjit Chowdhry
Ranjit Chowdhry was in I’m Not Rappaport (1996) with Marin Hinkle
Marin Hinkle was in Rails & Ties (2007) with Kevin Bacon

or

Bertrand Russell was in Aman (1967) with Om Prakash (I)
who was in Ghar Ho To Aisa (1990) with Saeed Jaffrey
who was in Sphinx (1981) with Frank Langella
who was in Frost/Nixon (2008) with Kevin Bacon

or

Kevin Bacon was in New York, I Love You (2008) with Irrfan Khan
who was in Dhund: The Fog (2003) with Gulshan Grover
who was in Patthar (1991) with Sunder (I)
who was in Aman (1967) with Bertrand Russell

Surprisingly though, establishing an Erdős number for Bertrand Russell is even harder! He rarely collaborated, except with Whitehead, who collaborated rarely as well. There is a publication path, but it goes through non-mathematical work: the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955, titled Texts of scientists’ appeal for abolition of war, which gives him an Erdos number of 3, through A. Einstein — E. Straus — P. ErdösErdős. (That publication also gives Erdős numbers to many others including Max Born, F. Joliot-Curie, and Linus Pauling.)

Written by S

Mon, 2007-11-26 at 01:16:42 +05:30

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Students write about LaTeX

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There is an article in the PracTeX journal with the first-person accounts of three people who attended a course in LaTeX. There’s nothing special about the article, but it is always nice to read us Indians write in what I call vernacular Indian English. I don’t mean this in any elitist way (I know “prescriptivist!” is a bad word, etc.); it’s just amusing to observe.

The three of them took the course at different times and are from different backgrounds, but all three essays have the same structure and share some sentences almost verbatim. They also contain gems like this one:

After that I had prepared a manuscript in LATEX (on the seventh day) and showed it to our revered teacher. He really appreciated my work and showed it to the class and above all it was surprising that the paper was accepted in the Current Science.

Written by S

Sun, 2007-11-25 at 05:26:52 +05:30

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Playful Pixar

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Pixar’s 4-minute short film Red’s Dream (1987) has credits at the end that roll by inconspicuously, but if you take a second glance at the disclaimers, you’ll find they actually say:

All characters and events are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons or appliances, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The FBI investigates crimes. Mark Leather wrote a paint system but his name is really here just to impress girls. No portion of this movie, including the soundtrack, may be reproduced in any manner. Always wear a helmet.

Their 1988 short Tin Toy says:

Any resemblance to actual toys or children is unintentional. To open, press down while turning cap. Pixar and RenderMan are registered trademarks of Pixar. Seatbelts save lives. No portion of this movie, including its sound track, may be reproduced in any manner or we won’t be your friends anymore. This bag is not a toy. Keep out of reach of children.

It also has a “Babies John looked at a lot” section in the credits.
Several of the movies seem to have a “very very special thanks to Steve Jobs” and the like…

Written by S

Sun, 2007-11-25 at 00:30:53 +05:30

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The Cure for Information Overload

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This post sums up my situation perfectly.

It’s probably even more appropriate now than it was a year-and-a-half ago.

Written by S

Sat, 2007-11-24 at 17:37:31 +05:30

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Obliged and obligated

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First things first: I prefer obliged, always.

“Obliged” is always correct, and “obligated” sometimes is. Both have been in the language for several centuries. In “classical” literature, here’s obliged, and here’s obligated. Of course obliged is more common there.

There are some differences:

  • Obligated means only a legal/physical (etc.) constraint, while obliged is used for both legal/physical and moral “constraints”. Rather, someone feels obliged, and an obligation is more explicit, like an oath or the law:
    • I feel obliged to help her ≈ I thought I should help her ≈ I feel as though I ought to help her
    • I was obligated to help her ≈ It was my duty to help her ≈ I had promised her I would help ≈ I owed her a favor ≈ She kept her end of the deal and now it is time for me to uphold my end.

    Note that the sense of “obliged” above is only a possible sense that “obligated” doesn’t have; obliged covers both senses.

  • AHD says: “Oblige and obligate are interchangeable in the sense of genuine constraint, but not in instances involving a sense of gratitude for a service or favor. A person is obliged (not obligated) when he feels a debt of gratitude and nothing more; he is obligated (or obliged) when under a direct compulsion to follow a given course.”

[From an alt.usage.english thread.]

The plain and simple difference is that “obliged” is always correct, and “obligated” is sometimes correct but it grates on my ears and those of several others.

Written by S

Sat, 2007-11-24 at 15:51:30 +05:30

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Women in science

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Everyone has something to say about this :-)

Anyway, I was reading a post by Terence Tao about the book Math Doesn’t Suck, which is aimed at girls in middle school. There is a review of the book here, which, in passing, says

As an aside, this freedom of choice for smart girls certainly accounts for some of the variance in the percentage of Nobel Prizes won by women in the pre- and post-women’s liberation periods. Once women were allowed to enter the professions, they won fewer “hard” Nobel Prizes, indicating that some of the female scientists and mathematicians of the past would likely have preferred to practice medicine or law, but had no other choice than to conduct research. McKellar, her sister, and most of the women from the testimonials are cases-in-point: they are all great at math, yet only one has chosen a career as a research scientist.
The author herself majored in math at a prestigious university, graduated summa cum laude, and shares credit for a math/physics proof — how much more positive encouragement could she need if she truly wanted to be a research mathematician? She just prefers what more women than men prefer to do with their lives: to work more with people than objects, and to help and nurture more than to figure out how things work.

This reminds me of Philip Greenspun’s “Women in Science” essay, where he argues that being a scientist is basically a shitty job, and

A lot more men than women choose to do seemingly irrational things such as become petty criminals, fly homebuilt helicopters, play video games, and keep tropical fish as pets (98 percent of the attendees at the American Cichlid Association convention that I last attended were male). Should we be surprised that it is mostly men who spend 10 years banging their heads against an equation-filled blackboard in hopes of landing a $35,000/year post-doc job?

and

1. young men strive to achieve high status among their peer group
2. men tend to lack perspective and are unable to step back and ask the question “is this peer group worth impressing?”

Must give this more thought…

See also: “Today’s girls prefer to look sexy rather than be clever”:

‘Girls [...] they’re actually living in a profoundly anti-feminist landscape where girls compete for attention on the basis of how much they are sexually willing to do for the boys.’

See also: Women and Mathematics: Mathematics is too fiercely competitive. But of course, women can be competitive too…

Also: Beliefs affect performance: Women told they are bad do badly.

Edit: see also this post by Scott Aaronson.

Written by S

Thu, 2007-11-22 at 21:10:32 +05:30

Reviews

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Dumping ground for reviews of books, movies, etc. that I find:

Thomas Friedman and “The World is Flat”

Written by S

Tue, 2007-11-20 at 03:34:42 +05:30

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Why was the water yellow? What’s with the hat thing?

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We went to a temple today.

Written by S

Sun, 2007-11-18 at 21:11:46 +05:30

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Men and women

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Is there anything good about men?

Full speech, more context, and better (and more to disagree with).

See also: Helen Fisher’s TED talk (video).

Written by S

Sun, 2007-11-18 at 01:48:19 +05:30

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Net neutrality

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An issue important enough for Google to have a page about it.

Read that page.
Watch this 10-minute video:
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by S

Sat, 2007-11-17 at 05:14:40 +05:30

Thoughts on philosophy

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Paul Graham: Most of philosophy until now has been a waste of time.

Written by S

Thu, 2007-11-15 at 16:19:51 +05:30

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Firefox: Subscribing to feeds using Google Reader

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If I select a feed URL (or “live bookmark” as Firefox likes to call it), and choose to “subscribe to this feed using: Google”, I am taken to a Google page that always shows two options, “Add to Google homepage” and “Add to Google Reader”. Is there a way of directly going to Google Reader each time?

Yes: Auto add to Google Reader, a Greasemonkey script.

It probably works; but I’m using an alpha release of Firefox 3 (“Gran Paradiso”), and Greasemonkey doesn’t work for me so I can’t be sure.

Written by S

Tue, 2007-11-13 at 14:42:16 +05:30

Posted in compknow

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Examples of bad design

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Here is a poster for Gattaca:

Gattaca poster

Maybe they have some notion of who the more popular actor is, but would it really hurt that much to swap the names around? This is ridiculous.

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Written by S

Tue, 2007-11-06 at 15:48:23 +05:30

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Films I saw

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Some cleanup…

Here’s the LSC schedule.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror isn’t exceptionally good (but yeah, I seem to pick up on the zombie film culture by watching parodies of it, like Shaun of the Dead, first). Death Proof should not be watched as part of Grindhouse. See it independently — the full version basically has a lot more girl talk, but that’s what makes Tarantino special, anyway. Builds up pace better.

Knocked Up: Pretty ok.

Hot Fuzz: Heh. I had already seen this before and still went to see it. From the makers of Shaun of the Dead, comes an action film.

Paris, Je T’aime: I really do love Paris. The film is rather uneven, etc… I think I’ve written about this already in another post.

Ocean’s Thirteen: Awful. Even compared to Eleven. The sequels just keep getting more smug, not actually better.

The Lives of Others: Very very good. Please watch.

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Written by S

Sun, 2007-11-04 at 01:41:09 +05:30

Posted in entertainment

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Google Calendar bug

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Google Calendar is one of the best things ever written. Its features are useful, its UI is brilliant, and its “quick add” feature alone is worth raving about (and I have). I keep all scheduled events on Google Calendar, even my timetable — creating recurring events (like a seminar series) is very easy. (Aside: I’ve never used a calendar for a todo list…)

Random usability comments follow; please don’t read beyond this point.

Google Calendar has several “views” — “Agenda” shows all your events as a list ordered by time (and date, of course), and the “Day”, “Week”, “Month” views show a day, week, month at a time respectively. There is also a “Custom” view which can be set to several durations, from “Next 2 days” to “Next 4 weeks”. (Actually the menu ought to call the options “2 days”, “4 weeks” etc., because these views can be moved to other periods just like any others, but it’s possible that “Next 3 days” in the menu is less confusing than “3 days”.) If you haven’t used Google Calendar, see this blog post for screenshots. (Aside: Found some useful tips here(mostly what I’ve already been doing).)

I use “Next 2 weeks”, because “1 week” is vertical (events are shown in boxes according to their size, intersecting ones intersect, etc… this is a nice feature, but it is distracting to see it except when you specifically want it), and “1 month” shows too few events per day (because I put my timetable, seminars, and subscribe to several calendars, I sometimes have 15 events a day, most of which won’t fit). “Next 2 weeks” fits about 11 events per day, and is a big enough interval for scheduling most events (usually from email I get), so it’s perfect.

Here’s evidence of a thoughtful, well-designed UI: What do think happens when you switch from one view to another? (Takes just a click, BTW, not going to some other “Settings” window and changing it, or even pulling up a menu.)

This is what happens: If you switch to a bigger duration (such as from “Week” to “Month”), it simply shows the period the view you were looking at was in. (Doesn’t reset to the default view for that duration, which is what bad UI would do.) If you switch to a smaller duration, it picks the first period of that duration in the view you were currently looking at (nice!), except if — and this is what distinguishes good UI from the mediocre — today was in the current view. Because if the view is “month”, and it’s the current month, chances are that you’re actually looking at today, and when you switch to “week” you want the current week, not the first week of the month. For other months, it makes sense to switch to the first week (anything else would seem less “logical”). This is what Google Calendar does.

Except — and this is the bug — it doesn’t work when I’m in the custom view. Or at least, my custom view of “2 weeks” (and “3 weeks” and “4 weeks” — I didn’t try the others because I’ll only know the difference on special days of the week, and Thursday is not one of them.) If I’m looking at today in the “Next 2 weeks” view and I switch to the “Day” view, it shows me the first day in my 2-week-period, which is some confusing day I don’t want. Yeah, I know I have to only click on the “Today” button each time, and even all of those times put together it’s not really worth my going to all the trouble of writing this, but the point is that it violates the Rule of Least Surprise (also called the Principle of Least Astonishment), and it annoys me.

This ought to be fixed, but of course, like most other closed software development, it is hard to find a human to speak to. At least they have a “Contact Us” web form….

Written by S

Thu, 2007-11-01 at 14:16:12 +05:30

Blog stats as of 2007-11-01

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Heh.

Blog Stats

Total Views: 20,984
Best Day Ever: 198
Views today: 71

Totals

Posts: 178
Comments: 87
Tags: 78

Spam

Akismet has protected your site from 10,010 spam comments.

Comments:

  1. Are half of all views by comment-spam bots?
  2. If WordPress had introducted tags earlier (or if I went back and tagged all my old posts), I’m sure I would have more tags than posts :-)

Written by S

Thu, 2007-11-01 at 07:45:58 +05:30

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