The Lumber Room

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

Posts Tagged ‘personal

No force on earth…

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Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it.
— John Perry, in his brilliant essay Structured Procrastination

Am I the only one who finds the last sentence above not a joke at all? Who has tried for months to send a single email?

(Prof. Perry’s short humorous essay is a true classic of our times, and one I have found much insight from. The trick of being able to do X simply by thinking of a more important Y has helped me many times, whenever I have remembered to apply it, and the essay helps one avoid the wrong tack of minimising commitments. Still, sometimes, there are things X to be done for which no more important Y comes to mind, and it is not clear what to do in that case.)


Written by S

Fri, 2010-03-12 at 15:27:22

Smith? and other names

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As I, like many South Indians, don’t have a surname, and have been forced to adopt one for my life in the US, I have some things to say about surnames, and there will be a post about them someday, probably. (There was a draft lying around which had “tyranny” in its title, but nothing much good besides.) In the meantime, someone very bored might be able to amuse themselves with related news I’ve been collecting, such as this latest one from a BBC article on zombies:

In their study, the researchers from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University (also in Ottawa) posed a question: If there was to be a battle between zombies and the living, who would win?

Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake) and colleagues wrote: “We model a zombie attack using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. [..]

Some paragraphs later:

Professor Smith? told BBC News:

(Apparently he’s an Australian citizen and got his name changed while living in the US… quite an achievement. His major complaint seems to be that Facebook won’t let him use his name.)

Written by S

Wed, 2009-08-19 at 15:45:00

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The procrastinator’s nature

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I just started using LeechBlock yesterday, and already I know why “How can I block Google’s cached versions of sites as well?” is in the FAQ.

LeechBlock is wonderful. (Install)

There are no results on Google for “LeechBlock saved my life”, but there are testimonials like “Leech block has changed my life”, “Leechblock just saved my life”, and “This application is saving my thesis, and improving my social life”.

If LeechBlock isn’t working for you, you can try more extreme solutions like (on Mac) Freedom and SelfControl. (Found via this post.) But for me, right now, with my current level of work and self-awareness and other devices being employed, LeechBlock seems to be just about sufficient. (Although I do wish Safari were an even worse browser than it is.)

Semi-unrelatedly, also worth reading is Aaron Swartz’s experiment involving one month offline: Before/After.

Written by S

Fri, 2009-08-07 at 23:51:05

Music and lyrics

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I attended a talk today by Adriano Garsia, which was part of the MIT combinatorics seminar. It was called “A New Recursion in the Theory of Macdonald Polynomials”, and while I didn’t know what Macdonald polynomials were, I went to the talk anyway, because I like polynomials and I like recursion and I like combinatorics (but primarily because it was a way of procrastinating). :-)

Even though I understood almost nothing of the deep mathematics in the talk (and still don’t exactly know what Macdonald polynomials are), it was a very pleasant and refreshing talk, and I felt very good after hearing it. The reason is that it had, of all the talks I’ve attended in recent memory, probably the best “music”. What does that mean? As Prof. Doron Zeilberger invented the term:

Human beings have bodies and souls. Computers have hardware and software, and math talks have lyrics and music. Most math talks have very hard-to-follow lyrics, […]

But like a good song, and a good opera, you can still enjoy it if the music is good. The “music” in a math talk is the speaker’s enthusiasm, body-language, and off-the-cuff heuristic explanations.

Sometimes you can recognize a familiar word, and relate it to something of your own experience, whether or not the meaning that you attribute to it is what the speaker meant, and this can also enhance your enjoyment.

(read more at Zeilberger’s Opinion 78)

And so it was with this talk. Prof. Garsia clearly loved the subject, and even someone like me who had no idea what’s going on felt compelled to listen, fascinated. He told us how the problem came about (“long relationship with Jim Haglund: he makes brilliant conjectures and I prove them”), of false proofs they had had, of how their current proof was driven by heuristics and unproven conjectures, he even posed a problem and offered a $100 reward for an elementary/combinatorial proof. :-)
Far better than the talks with bad music and bad lyrics. (It also helped that although I couldn’t understand the lyrics, they sounded nice: permutations, Young tableaux, polynomials defined in terms of them…)

Edit: See also the recent research ‘showing’ that gestures help students learn mathematics.

Written by S

Fri, 2009-03-20 at 23:54:46

Posted in mathematics, Uncategorized

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IMDb Top 250

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It turns out I’ve watched only 108 of the IMDb Top 250.

Update: There have been changes in the Top 250 since this post; The Dark Knight is now No. 1 with a rating of 9.5 :D

Part of the problem is that good movies keep slipping out of the list; look at some in the last 20:
231. 7.9 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
234. 7.9 Strada, La (1954)
236. 7.9 Dolce vita, La (1960)
237. 7.9 Shaun of the Dead (2004)
239. 7.9 Roman Holiday (1953)
240. 7.9 His Girl Friday (1940)
241. 7.9 Brazil (1985)
242. 7.9 Network (1976)
244. 7.9 Once (2006)

(I’m not saying all of those are great; just guessing that anyone thinks at least some of those are :))

My numbers are better at the top:
10 of the top 10,
36 of the top 40 (WALL-E and the 3 LotR movies),
39 of the top 50.
But only 59 of the top 100.

Update [2009-08-02] Currently, of the “endangered” movies I listed last time,
Pirates of the Caribbean is out,
La strada is safely in at 212,
La dolce vita: 246,
Shaun of the Dead is out,
Roman Holiday: 241,
His Girl Friday safely in at 213,
Brazil: OUT!,
Network: 223,
Once: out.

And I’ve seen:
71 of the top 75 (Up! (2009) and the three LotR movies),
87 of the top 100 (getting there!),
142 of the top 250

Written by S

Mon, 2008-07-14 at 00:26:10

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One of the amazing miracles of the internet

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From Stevey’s blog rants:

Heck, some don’t even read at all. It’s one of the amazing miracles of the internet: write-only people. They can’t read but they somehow find a way to write. You see them commenting all the time in my blogs: “I didn’t actually read your entry, but allow me to comment on it all the same…” Lovely.

Very true. Also, makes me wonder: Am I one of the read-only people?

Written by S

Mon, 2008-01-07 at 16:22:10

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Delayed learning

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A quote from Ralph P. Boas:

…by a phenomenon that everybody who teaches mathematics has observed: the students always have to be taught what they should have learned in the preceding course. (We, the teachers, were of course exceptions; it is consequently hard for us to understand the deficiencies of our students.) The average student does not really learn to add fractions in an arithmetic class; but by the time he has survived a course in algebra he can add numerical fractions. He does not learn algebra in the algebra course; he learns it in calculus, when he is forced to use it. He does not learn calculus in a calculus class either; but if he goes on to differential equations he may have a pretty good grasp of elementary calculus when he gets through. And so on throughout the hierarchy of courses; the most advanced course, naturally, is learned only by teaching it. This is not just because each previous teacher did such a rotten job. It is because there is not time for enough practice on each new topic; and even it there were, it would be insufferably dull.

It is an important lesson — and one that I have been finding hard to absorb — that it’s usually fruitful to move on when one has enough of an understanding of something to be able to read further; that there is nothing to be gained by reading the same thing over and over, just because one feels that there might be something that one has missed. I am not making an argument for shoddy work; I’m only remarking that there is often nothing to be gained from being paranoid/obsessed/fixated with an idea. I wonder if I just need to learn to be more confident.

The quote seems to be open to interpretation: this post (which is where I first saw it) uses it to observe that teachers should be judged on how their students perform at the next level of education.

The other lesson, explicit in

he learns it in calculus, when he is forced to use it

is that one learns by doing. This may be a cliché, but that is exactly why is too easy to forget its meaning. One learns when one is forced to do
I have observed this in my picking up of programming languages etc., where I’m usually trying less hard to “learn it perfectly”, and therefore (surprsingly?) have better results. It’s time to apply this insight to academic learning, I guess.

Update[2009-12-10]: The quote is from an article by Boas in the American Mathematical Monthly, April 1957; if you don’t have JSTOR access it’s reproduced here (scroll down).

Written by S

Thu, 2007-12-20 at 06:28:20

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