NAA Link: NPR Interview with ‘Genius’ Mathematician

22 September 2009

‘Genius’ Mathematician Seeks New Problems : NPR.


NAA: 0 = 1

21 September 2009

New article at Not About Apples.

Today a proof that zero equals one, but not  your garden variety division by zero malarkey.

Permalink: Yet Another Zero Equals One Proof

NAA: Reaction to Numbers, Pt 3

17 September 2009

New article on Not About Apples.

Today, my thoughts on the last part of the BBC’s three-part series “Numbers that Made the World”.

Permalink: Reaction to “Numbers that Made the World, Pt. 3″

American Cod?

15 September 2009

So I finally got around to reading (in the audiobook sense) Neil Gaiman’s (dare I say masterwork?) American Gods.  Awesome. Epic. Beautiful. True. Clever. Relevant.  Now I know what all the fuss was about.

Who out there has read it?  If you haven’t, get out there and read it.  I want to discuss it with somebody!  But there’s nothing that I want to say that I don’t consider spoilery (in the sense that I wouldn’t have wanted to read such a post in advance of my reading).  I feel the same way about Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution.  So if anyone has read either of those books, make yourself known to me.  Let’s have a chat.

The audiobook was masterfully read by the inimitable George Guidall.

The experience was also noteworthy because it was the first time that I listened to a book on one of those pre-loaded audiobook gadgets that the library has now.  You get a thing, you stick in a battery, plug in headphones, turn it on, and out comes the story.  It was a great experience, and I’ll be returning to that library to raid their collection.

Aside from the convenience of having such a small and portable version of a book, without the annoyance of changing CDs, and even with options for the speed at which the narrator speaks, audiobooks solve a deeper problem that novels often have.  They conceal your relative location in the book.  With a normal book, you can physically feel how far you are from the end, just by the weight of the book on your hand .  With a normal audiobook, you have the same phenomenon, just measured in progress through the stack of CDs.  If you have read more than a few books in your life, this information (which is probably impossible to filter out) can be a spoiler all by itself.  It is generally clear at the start of a confrontation or conversation whether it will tend to resolve issues or ramify issues.  (This phenomenon and the difficulty of circumventing it are best discussed in Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter; a Scribr version of this whole book can be found at this blog post — the relevant portion begins on page 408.)

But perhaps the spookiest thing came at the very end of the book.  If you are at all familiar with Recorded Books productions, you know that they end by suggesting two other Recorded Books items that they think you will also enjoy.  Now, usually these book are in the same genre as the book you just heard and/or shame thematic elements.  Something like that.  In this case, one of the books suggested was Cod.  This is a “biography” of cod (yes, the fish, cod) and purely nonfictional telling of how cod has played a significant role in the shaping and the history of our civilization.  (It’s a lot more interesting than it sounds.)  Now, I don’t see any connection of any kind between that and a fantasy tale of the conflict between the old gods and myths and the new “gods” of television, internet, and credit card, for the soul of the American people.  But here’s the thing.  It just so happens that I have read Cod.  And it just so happens that I thought it was one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read.  So was the voice in the machine just lucky?  Can there really be some deeper connection to which I am utterly oblivious between the two books?  Or some reason why readers of American Gods would be atypically likely to take a suggestion to try out Cod?

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Water Parks . . . OR . . . But It Doesn’t Taste Like a Blizzard!

15 September 2009

Perhaps the most unexpected high point of the trip to Disneyworld were the two trips we made to the water parks (Typhoon Lagoon, home of an epic wave pool, and Blizzard Beach).  It wasn’t so much that we needed to get out of the heat (though perhaps that need was more urgent for my wife and/or children than it was for me) as it was how much everyone enjoyed it simultaneously.

The children both had swimming lessons a few months back (yes, both of them), and it was pretty obvious that they were time well spent.  Gabriel (whom I held onto at all times) evidently remembered what he had learned in the pool, because he right away took to kicking and splashing and everything that the baby swim class had done.  He even spontaneously blew bubbles in the water (which was the one part of the swim lesson he had refused to do back when there were lessons).  Datura seemed to be able to spend endless amounts of time on the kiddie water slides.

A favorite for my wife and I is always the low-key innertube rides where you can just drift lazily around the whole thing.  I recall a trip we made to Cedar Point (before we were married), where did several laps around the water park and discussed the feasibility of having an innertube moat installed around our house (which still seems like a good idea to me).  Yes, Gabriel did this too.  The first time, I just held him and walked (the water was that shallow) with an innertube irrelevantly floating around me, drifting from side to side sometimes when carried by imaginary current.  The second day he was braver, so I just lay on the innertube and let him lie on my chest.

But I have to admit I found Blizzard Beach rather distracting.  I mean, a skiing-and-freezing-themed water park?  It’s disquieting to see a bunch of people in bathing suits by pictures of polar bears on slides.  Isn’t hypothermia a bad water park theme?  My wife says it works because it’s unexpected.

Is that really the main criterion?  Does this mean we could have a salad-themed water park?

Or does it just mean I have turned into the Apple Jacks dad?

NAA: Paradox!

14 September 2009

New article on Not About Apples.

Today, a paradox that has interested me for a long time.

Permalink: The Paradox of Naming

NAA: Reaction to Numbers, Pt 2

10 September 2009

New article on Not About Apples.

Today, my thoughts on the first second of the BBC’s three-part series “Numbers that Made the World”.

Permalink: Reaction to “Numbers that Made the World, Pt. 2″