Sunday, November 29, 2009

On a Misconception in the Chronological Succession of Mathematics


I was watching Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel the other day, when an announcement came on, warning that the next scene had an unusually high science content. I understand that not everyone is mathematically or scientifically inclined, and that possibly, they actually don’t care about the maths. Of course, I’d rather no one had a panic attack when coming across some unexpected mathematics, so in future, I’ll be employing a sign.

WARNING: HIGH MATHEMATICAL CONTENT.
If you wish to remain socially functional, do not pay
to much attention to the technical details.

Of course, if you are already socially dysfunctional, there's not much more damage that can be done, so I guess there’s no harm in reading on. If you are not mathematically inclined, but ignored my warning, it’s probably OK. There's actually not too much maths here. If you think back to high school, you’ll probably remember calculus. You may not remember what it involved, but you remember the name. If I mention the term differentiation, you may vaguely remember it. You may have forgotten how to do it, but the term sticks in your head. You may not remember integration. I certainly don’t, at least not from the high school syllabus. If you have any tertiary training in maths, however, you will probably remember these all too well, probably to the point of being sick of them.

To sum it all up, the interaction between any two interdependent properties can be described by a mathematical function. Calculus involves using this function to extract information about this interaction from the function. Differentiation is an operation which extracts information about how the interaction changes at a specific point, while integration does the opposite, and extracts information about the whole range of possible interactions.

Differentiation is quite simple, and taught in schools. Integration is usually quite challenging, and is left until university. It’s amazing how people simply jump to conclusions and assume that differentiation was invented first. The truth is that integration came first. Several thousand years first, actually. It’s a bit of a surprise to most, but quite obvious if you think about it.

Thinking in the simplest terms, with the two properties that interact giving the length and breadth of the walls of a room, then integration will give you the area, whereas differentiation will tell you how skew the one wall is. Now if you imagine extending this to a field. Integration will tell you how many seeds to buy to plant in the field, whereas differentiation will tell you, well, pretty much nothing. And the integration for a rectangular field is really simple, because it all just turns out to be length times breadth – a calculation any eight year old can do. The derivative is also simple. The derivative is also really simple. It's zero, as long as the fence is straight.

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On Layered Meals...


… like lasagna or cottage pie, that are cooked in alternating layers. Particularly, the pre-prepared frozen versions you can buy, that take just 10 minutes to heat up in the microwave. The ones with only one serving, which come in a flimsy plastic packaging that the fork can pierce through. Eating these straight out of the tub is impractical – the tub is too hot to hold, and not the most efficient shape for eating. It is far more practical to dish it up onto a plate first. This is even truer for those that contain more than one serving.

This is all very well for a food that is mixed in, but it is extremely difficult to dish a layered meal from these containers while maintaining the layering. Surely the tubs could benefit from a redesign. A single gently sloped side that allows the meal to slide out while remaining upright and unmixed would be most welcome.

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On a Brief Pause...


.. to take a break. Mainly boredom induced, but is that a valid excuse? Perhaps not, because this blog was born out of boredom anyway (or at least, an excuse not to do any work). I apologise to those people who come back each week and were disappointed, but it goes to show how an unintentional pattern forms, and then everyone spots a pattern that was never meant to be there in the first place, and they start to follow it. It maybe my fault for adding a few posts almost every Sunday for almost ten months. Anyway, I am still here, still alive (although now part cyborg), and I may have a few posts left in me.

Three weeks? Is that all. Here I was thinking I'd been away for 70% of the month.

Anyway, I wish I could say I had a backlog of topics, but I don't, so you'll have to put up with slightly fewer posts than you were getting earlier in the year. But then again, you don't have a choice, do you? Hehe.
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

On Starting Conversations


Particularly phone conversations. To my knowledge, the generally accepted practice is that the phone call is initiated because the caller wishes to start a conversation with the callee. If the caller did not wish to have a conversation, then he would not call. It seemed straight forward and sensible. On a similar note, the callee has no way of knowing the caller's intended topic until the caller reveals it.

When I pick up the phone, and respond simply with "Hello?" I never give my name at the end, because who ever is on the other end ought to know who they are calling, otherwise chances are they don't need to know. If they have my number, but not my name, then I'm not sure I want them to know my name.

Earlier this week, the phone rang, and I answered with my usual "Hello?" The caller responded with "Hello." and waited for me to respond. I realised then that there was a rather obvious gap in my understanding of the accepted procedure. What happens if the caller does not initiate the conversation. It should occur to him that I was probably doing something else when the phone rang, and I would prefer to continue doing that. While I'd be perfectly happy to have a meaningful conversation with someone, I have (slightly) better things to do than start conversations with complete strangers. If I wanted to do that, I'd phone a complete stranger, wouldn't I?

I wasn't sure what to do, so I resorted to the age old human tactic of forgetting the whole thing. I started again, working on a little more of a questioning tone. "Hello?". And the response came: "Hello." and then nothing. I waited a while, and then started the process again. On the third try, I think he finally realised what was happening, and introduced himself, and told me what he was calling for. I wasn't paying enough attention to know what he wanted, so I told him to try calling my father, and hung up. If he didn't have the number, it was too bad. It couldn't have been important, because he would have caught my attention.

(On a side note: If he was a salesman, and he did happen to have my father's number, he would have been my luck. While most people get annoyed to receive a sales call during supper, my father will be genuinly interested. He'd ask a few questions, and then turn to my mother, cover the phone mouthpiece, and say, "They're redoing gutters in our area, do we need our's done?" My mother often has to take the phone from him to tell the salesperson that we are not interested. When she doesn't, we occasionally get a random room in our house shampooed and cleaned for free. We've also had far more valuations done on our home than I think is necessary.)
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On "the Rest is History"


It's a hilarious way to end a story, because it implies that what has been told up to that point is not history. As far as I am concerned, history is a record of events that have happened in the past. If the story that was just told is not history, that means it's not a record of events that have happened, and so it is not true.

Why would someone, after telling a perfectly convincing story, ruin all their credibility by finishing with a stupid line like "the rest is history".
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On "Coffee Served All Day..."


"... only between 6:30 and 10:30"

I don't think any more needs to be said.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Car "Guards"


Forget the usual complaints about them. The stuff like “they only come running when you leave”, “what are they going to do if someone steals my car anyway”, “they don’t know this is my car”, “how does he know where I want to park” and all of that. Even forget the annoying bits like they don’t know the rules of the road, and they stand right where I want to reverse my car. The thing that you should really take note of is that, if you are quick, and get out before he notices you (which is disturbingly easy) and begin to drive past the guard, he will direct you to an empty parking. It shows how well he was watching your car.

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On Spotlights in the Cinema


Movie tickets are getting expensive these days. Actually, not really. At most places they are pretty cheap. Where they are still expensive, they’re not much more than they were five years ago, so there’s not really much point in complaining. My complaint is actually not so much about the prices, but about some of the people who pay that price. I’m not sure why they do, because it’s cheaper (actually free) to sit outside. That’s much better than paying to be in the cinema when you’re just going to play on your cell phone. Or sit on MXit or Facebook, and not pay any attention to the screen.

The stupidest part about it all is that people think no one will notice, but then if they are looking for something in the dark, the first thing half of them do is pull out their cell phone to serve as a light. Why don’t they just take a torch to the cinema and shine that around.
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On Underestimating Good Art


Most importantly, really good sketches. There are some people in the world who are really good at sketching. Some can use shading and different lines to place emphasis so that the sketch can capture reality far better than a photograph ever could. What I’ve never understood is why, when cameras are not permitted in a court of law, a sketch artist is allowed to capture the scene. I was not blessed with talent in the drawing department, but I do have a camera. Surely not allowing me to capture images, but allowing the sketch artist is discriminating against all who were not blessed with artistic talent.

Why aren’t cameras allowed in court anyway?

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