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


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


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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?


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


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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

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