Monday, February 20, 2017

Maybe My Passion For Math HASN'T Been Ignited At Last

4 days ago I wrote on this blog that perhaps I was finally finding math interesting. But there has not been much progress on that front since then. For quite a while I couldn't find the problem in the Thomas/Finney textbook on calculus and analytic geometry about the speed at which the man's shadow moved and the rate at which its length changed as he walked toward a lamppost. It was such a long while that I actually began to wonder whether I had merely dreamed the problem, and whether calculus would actually be any help which such questions. Then I googled Thomas Finney man lamppost shadow and deduced that the problem was in the 3rd chapter. In the 5th edition it's on page 132.

But I haven't made much progress at all in studying the preceding 131 pages. Whenever I begin to try, it's the sort of torture which the other 5 friends on Friends appear to feel whenever Ross begins to try to tell them about paleontology. I have tended to give up very quickly, and read about something else instead -- the history of India, for example, or paleontology. (I've always been disappointed when the other friends shut Ross down; I feel like I would have found what he had to say about paleontology interesting. Of course, Ross is just a fictional character, and I don't know whether David Schwimmer and all of the writers of Friends all put together actually know anything at all about paleontology or not.)

Clearly, I'm a geek. Just still not much of a math geek. I even felt the torture just now when I looked at a couple of calculators for scientists and attempted to learn what the symbols mean. I know the signs for add, subtract, multiply, divide, X to the power of Y, roots, percent, and... that's about it. (And actually, the % key is only on the calculator for non-scientists.) Presumably, studying those 131 pages would explain many more of the keys for me.

It's just really hard, because I really hate it for some reason.

Is it all my math teachers' fault? No, I really doubt that. The math teachers I had represented a wide variety of personality types. There was no lack of love of the subject among them. And I had a big crush on one of them. Between all of that, and my native aptitude -- I mentioned in the previous post that I had factored 3-digit numbers in my head years before a math teacher told me that it was called factoring, and that those numbers which could only be divided by themselves and 1 were called prime numbers, and that one could refer to 125 as 5 to the 3rd power, and so on. Just to be clear: by the age of 5 or so, I had factored all of the numbers up to and past 1000 in my head, in addition to many much larger numbers such as 1 billion and 15,625 and 6561 -- between all of that, perhaps a passion for math would have been kindled in me back in school if it could at all have been.

Even the factoring in my head has never been fun. It's always been tedious. I didn't start doing it because it was fun, but because I often couldn't stop doing it when my mind my wasn't occupied with something I found interesting, like history or music.

So -- put the Nobel for Physics and the Fields Medal on hold for now. I apologize to my vast numbers of fans if they're disappointed now because I got their hopes up about the math. For now, you'll have to settle for me being a literary genius, profound philosopher and all-around adorable person, as usual, and for me being able to tell when a candidate in the primaries no longer has a chance before most people, although maybe not before Rachel Maddow and Barack Obama, and things like that.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Foreigners Of Every Kind

Percival Spear (yes, his name really was Percival Spear), a 20th-century English historian who spent much of his life living in and writing about India, who taught with distinction both in India and England, including a stint at Cambridge University, who served in the government of India for several years in the 1940's, writes of the Mughal Empire on page 67 of his book India, Pakistan and the West, 4th ed, Oxford University Press, 1967:

"A significant sign of greatness was the welcome afforded to foreigners of every kind from Portugese Jesuits to French jewelers, and the interest shown not only in foreign novelties like watches and mechanical toys, but in ideas as well. Akbar delighted in Jesuit discussions of their faith and Dara Shikoh ordered translations both of the gospels and of the Upanishads."

The Mughal Empire was a regime which ruled much of modern-day India, Pakistan and Afghanistan from the 16th to the 19th century. Akbar was a Mughal Emperor and Dara Shikoh a Mughal crown Prince. The Upanishads are the Sanskrit texts which contain the core philosophy of Hinduism.

All of the most civilized places in human history have been especially welcoming to people from all over over the world. New York City, for example, is brilliant in very large part because it welcomes people from all over the world and celebrates their cultures. The Chinese, Italian, Puerto Rican, Irish, Brazilian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Mexican, Bengali, Hindi, Bangladeshi, Korean, Dominican, Japanese, Cuban, Russian and Ukrainian communities in the city are just a few of the largest examples of the results of this welcoming and nurturing environment.

Imagine someone who lived an entire long life in New York City, exposed on a daily basis to that rich variety of languages, having such a wonderful variety of ethnic cuisines always within easy reach, having the privilege of being able to learn from people of such varied backgrounds -- imagine someone spending a lifetime in such a wonderful place, and still being so dense as to embrace the most primitive and xenophonic parts of American culture. Sad.

Trump, Brilliance, Capitalism

Don't Dismiss Trump's Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity. We should assume they are darkly brilliant, says Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal in Time.

Both Trump and Stephens, who begins his piece in Time with ridiculous assertions about the integrity of his employer, the Wall Street Journal, which in reality has become just another right-wing Murdoch noise machine, should be seen for the morons they are. You've got to be pretty pretty stupid not to see that Trump is stupid, or not to see how Murdoch has turned the Journal into a joke.

I'm tired of claims that Trump is brilliant. He's not merely pretending to be a buffoon, he actually is one, unlike many other leading Republicans, who, although certainly not rocket scientists, are also not the idiots they are currently pretending to be in their agonized efforts to argue that the President is making sense about something, and/or not really saying what the idiotic things he obviously is saying. Kellyanne Conway is perhaps the most strikingly obvious example, in the way that she has said utterly different things about Trump before and after he hired her.

Many of the scientists and engineers who are improving solar and wind power and developing other green sources of energy, and many of the entrepreneurs getting them up and running, actually are brilliant. Trump, and his boss Putin, embody the stupid approach to energy policy: double down on petrochemicals. Artists, teachers, philosophers often are downright brilliant, and in the US we are pearls currently cast before the swine Trump.

Trump, along with the AIDS Medication Douchebag Martin Shkreli, embodies pure capitalism, and demonstrates that it requires crudity and insensitivity rather than intelligence. You remember the infuriatingly stupid grin on Shkreli's face as he confronted intense scrutiny by the media and by legislators after he obtained the manufacturing license for the AIDS medication Daraprim and immediately raised its price from $13.50 to $750 per dosage? Of course you remember. That sort of grin, in that sort of situation, is the sort of thing which sears itself into the memory. He was grinning because he knew that he had followed the rules of capitalism perfectly.

What he didn't know -- has he learned it in the meantime? -- is that becoming the most despised jerk in the US was going to have an effect on his life, no matter how closely he followed those rules.

Capitalism teaches that the person with the greatest amount of wealth has achieved the greatest amount of success. That's all that capitalism teaches about success: buy low, sell high, done. Most capitalists realize, sometimes consciously, often not, that there are many other factors in success and failure than the size of one's stack. When a person's ideas of success and failure are really, actually, exclusively about the bottom line, which is actually only rarely the case, the result is horrible and repulsive, like Shkreli, and like the current President of the United States.

Unfortunately, the realization that capitalism has some big problems is often not conscious. In the United States more than in some other places, the unwillingness to treat capitalism as something which can and should be examined critically, is very widespread. Capitalism is often talked about as if it were as inevitable as gravity, and as impossible to wish away, and that nothing better will ever be able to replace it.

It seems to me that the 2007-2008 financial crisis led more people to criticize capitalism as a whole than had done so previously. Maybe Trump will wake up still more people about it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Am I Finally Developing An Interest In Math?

I've always been freakishly good at doing arithmetic in my head. Not quite as good as Rain Man, but definitely unusual. However, I've never found mathematics to be interesting. I wonder whether that's an unusual combination of aptitude and disinterest. I stopped taking math classes in high school as soon as I was allowed to, at the end of 10th grade, when the algebra and geometry courses I had completed met the minimum requirements for graduation.

My younger brother took more advanced math courses. Much more advanced. My brother is literally a rocket scientist. He's got a Bachelor's and Master's of Science from MIT. As an undergrad he had a summer internship working for Martin Marietta and NASA on the Space Shuttle. Then between the Bachelor's and the Master's he took two years off from school and worked for a private company which has sent all sorts of things into orbit. A genuine rocket scientist. We're very proud of the little genius.

Every couple of years, I get an urge to study some more advanced math, and engineering and physics. The urge usually passes very quickly, but then again, it keeps coming back. About 30 years ago I had the urge, and my brother gave me this:

It's the 5th edition of Calculus and Analytic Geometry by George B Thomas and Ross L Finney, both professors at MIT when the 5th edition was published in 1979. It was a worn-out copy, my brother was done with it. I don't know whether he had studied this book in high school in preparation for MIT, or if it was the textbook for a freshman class he took at MIT, or maybe both.

I still have that old worn copy of the Thomas/Finney that my brother gave me. But I still haven't looked at it much. I'm currently having another one of those urges to make myself interested in math. But that's just the problem: math remains excruciatingly boring to me. But now I've been looking at that textbook, paging through it. And also looking at other books such as Blatt and Weisskopf's Theoretical Nuclear Physics, Rojensky's Electromagnetic Fields and Waves and Tolstov's Fourier Series. Looking for something which I can honestly say that I find interesting.

I may have found something. Thomas and Finney may have been rather sly when it came to education. There are a lot of word problems for the students to solve in their textbook, problems demonstrating some applications of calculus and analytic geometry, and one of those problems has actually caught my attention. That's right: something in a math book has begun to interest me.

I can't find that problem right now. I think it's somewhere in the first 50 pages or so of this textbook which runs to well over 900 pages. And it's a collage freshman textbook. Freshmen at MIT, which is certainly not the same thing as freshmen everywhere, but still. Early on in a freshman math textbook, there was a problem which I don't know how to solve.

Yes, it was arrogant of me, but I had wondered whether, in addition to boring me, this textbook would also teach me anything, or not. Arrogant, yes. But, for example, I was factoring 3-digit numbers in my head as a small child, years before a math teacher introduced me to the term "factor." Without finding it interesting. Just because it was there in my head.

But somewhere toward the front of Thomas/Finney 5th ed is a problem which, reconstructed from memory, goes something like this: a person of height X is walking at speed Y directly toward a streetlamp of height Z. Determine the rate at which the length of X's shadow decreases.

I can't do that. But apparently the first chapter or two of this textbook will show me how to do it. (Assuming I'm smart enough to understand what the book says.)

And that is interesting. That is definitely an example of something this textbook could teach me. And, apparently, that's just the beginning of introductory calculus. Just scratching the surface.

That's pretty cool.

So, you realize what this means, right? That's right: I'm going to be the first person to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and another one in Physics, plus a Fields Medal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Journalists Exposing The Plunder Of Politicians

Journalists are hard at work, exposing politicians who claim to be working for the little guy, while they themselves live in unimaginable wealth: the headline at

Barack and Michelle Obama Are About to Get Even Richer

That's right: while You Know Who is busy running the country into the ditch, appointing billionaires to his Cabinet and selling as much of the US as he can to Putin at bargain-basement rates, and please let's not forget about how our new Treasury Secretary foreclosed on a 90-year-old woman because of a discrepancy of 27 cents on her mortgage check (I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that last one); while all of that is really happening, Fox Business is keeping a sharp eye on the wealth of those nefarious plutocrats -- the Obamas.

I wonder how wealthy the Obamas are in the right-wing parallel universe where he's a secret Kenyan Muslim. In the real world, it probably would be pretty easy to estimate their real wealth pretty accurately, given that they've publicly disclosed all the details of their finances going back decades. Unlike You Know You.

Nice to know that Fox Business is on the case, isn't it?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Non-Laughing Cassandra

Maybe there's some way to get the attention of someone who wields real power at a huge corporation and tell them that you have an idea that would actually help them. I am not familiar with this way.

For example, Amazon.

Years ago I tried to get a job with Amazon, just correcting the errors on the website about what languages books are in. Because there were enough such errors that correcting would keep at least one brilliant person, such as myself, busy full-time -- and it would be a good investment for Amazon too, right? Imagine, all those customers finally actually finding what they'd been looking for. No-one I was able to reach was interested in the slightest, or even gave any sign that they understood what I was talking about. Have they made progress on that problem in the meantime? I have no idea, I no longer scour the Amazon website looking for such errors.

And then there are fake luxury-watch reviews. Not paid-for reviews, but reviews by people who think they're funny, saying things like, "This Rolex is great, and having to sell my house in order to buy it was a small price to pay. I'm very happy living out here in the woods," etc. There are who knows how many thousands of such reviews of expensive watches on Amazon, which are basically the same joke: "This here watch is real expensive, hyuck hyuck hyuck!" and none of which are funny. Or at least there were many thousands of such reviews. It's been a while since I've looked at any reviews of watches on Amazon. I sent a couple of messages to Amazon describing the problem, and I moved on. They could fix the problem by limiting reviews of expensive watches to people who've bought those watches, or similar ones.

Where's that on-ramp between me and things I could do something about?

Is it crammed with exactly the same morons who make all those lame jokes about the watches, making me a needle of reason in a haystack of stupidity?

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Newbie In The World Of Watches

If you comment on the ads on Facebook which are called "suggested posts," Facebook will show you similar stuff. If you click on the links, Facebook will show you a lot of similar stuff.

It's too bad that 2 of the links to watch sellers or watchmakers which looked more interesting led to websites where you have to register before you can browse. PITA, later, bye, Touch of Modern, which sells various high-end brands, and Minus-8, a somewhat affordable brand.

Minus-8 says they're from San Francisco. Can it be that some interesting-looking mechanical watches are actually Amurrkin?! I surfed around some watch forums and watch-review sites, and by God, yes! Minus-8 makes automatic watches! With Seiko NH35A automatic movements. And the watches are actually assembled in China. (Seiko is a Japanese company, but some of their movements are actually made in places like Malaysia.)

And speaking of sites which review watches: other than the legendary Watch Snob®, I'm not sure whether I've seen anyone yet who is more interested in uncompromising critical evaluation of timepieces than in having a place on the Web where a lot of watchmakers will advertise. I may have come across a couple such. I'm just not sure yet. I did a Google search for best watch reviewers, and literally all that got me was some remarks on several different sites about how they were the best watch reviewers. So, I'll keep looking. This is all still very new to me.

Like Seiko, Casio was a brand name I'd heard forever without realizing that they make some stuff which some people get really enthusiastic about. I've got a couple of pocket calculators on the table here next to my computer, and one of them ... *checking* ... hey lookit that, actually both of them are made by Casio. I bought them both back in the early 1990's, I rarely use either of them or give them much thought, I bought the SL-100B, which folds in half and has large keys, much more for the physical design --

-- than for any other reason, although the physical design is very important, I think. Using the SL-100B is a pleasant experience for me -- and the other one has many more functions, not all of which I know what they are. They both run on indoor lighting, never had to get a battery for either of them or recharge them or do any other sort of maintenance on them. They both still work just fine, is that remarkable for pocket calculators made in the early 1990's? I don't know.

The reason I mentioned Casio is because they make a watch called the G-Shock, which is renowned for its unbreakability. I went through a number of sites dedicated to the G-Shock looking for info about the movement, about whether there were any G Shocks with mechanical movements. I found only references to quartz movements in G-Shocks. On one G-Shock fan page a G-Shock fan patiently tried to explain how all watch movements should be quartz, basically because they're much, much more unbreakable. Whaddygonnado, quartz is quartz and mechanical is mechanical and never the twain shall meet. There are those Casio G-Shock fans over there, and there are us Seiko 5 fans over here, and perhaps most of the people in one group will never understand what the other group is so excited about.

This is my Seiko 5, by the way:

There are many others like it, but this one is mine.