July 25, 2007

"Math is hard"

Mattel got a lot of flack for its talking Barbie doll which said "Math is hard." I wanted to reprogram the voice chips to say "Partial differential equations with Neumann boundary conditions are hard." It's not that I completely disagreed with Mattel, I just thought Barbie should have been more specific. Imagine the conversations: "Mommy, what's a Neumann boundary condition?" "Well you see dear, that's when you fix the value of the derivative on the boundary curve." But then, I've been working on nerd propaganda for decades.

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January 23, 2007

The Library of Babel function


MathWorld calls this Tupper's Self-Referential Formula because a graph of that inequality in the domain 0<x<105, N<y<N+16 for a particular 541-digit number N shows an image of the function itself.

Closer investigation reveals that MathWorld does not even begin to do justice to the function, for higher up on the graph of this function one can find the complete works of Shakespeare, the contents of the lost library of Alexandria, and perhaps even the solution to unifying quantum mechanic with general relativity! At y values nearer the origin, you can find tomorrow's winning lottery number! If that sounds unbelievable, read on....

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January 05, 2007

Audience Participation Friday

Happy New Year to everyone. I am resolved this year to ship GC4. What are your New Year's resolutions?

John Horgan this week ponders the question of free will in the context of modern neuroscience Free will is NOT an illusion, Free Will Free Fall, Einstein WRONG on Free Will.

Charles Stross explored some of these themes in Accelerando. Peter Watts explored others in Blindsight. Both authors posted the full text of their books online without DRM, at the links above.

What other fiction on the question of free will have you enjoyed?

October 24, 2006

The Trouble with Physics

Just finished reading Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Nearly every blogger I read has already reviewed this book, and I have nothing to add to their discussion of the physics: Bee, Chad, Christine, David, Sean, Peter, xkcd.

As a longtime reader of Not Even Wrong, I was already familiar with the history of string theory and it's failure to live up to its initial promise. Many reviewers compare The Trouble with Physics to Peter Woit's recent book Not Even Wrong which grew out of his blog criticizing the over-hyping of string theory. Smolin's book seems to me a perfect companion to Ian Stewart's Letters to a Young Mathematician. Both books provide an insider's peek behind the curtains of academia demystifying the day to day work and politics of professional physicists and mathematicians going about their career.

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October 03, 2006

Fragile Things

Neil Gaiman read us ghost stories around a campfile last night from Fragile Things. Well, it was at the Berkeley Rep, but with the lights down it felt like we were outside gathered round a fire, with a thousand of our closest friends.

Instructions, should you ever find yourself in a fairy tale....

if any creature tell you that it hungers

feed it.

If it tells you that it is dirty,

clean it.

If it cries to you that it hurts,

if you can,

ease its pain.

Neil Gaiman reads

The Day the Saucers Came

That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden,

Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,

And the people of Earth stood and stared as they descended,

Waiting, dry-mouthed to find what waited inside for us

Walking out into the night air afterwards, the world seemed magical, perceptions forever changed.

September 18, 2006

Multi-core Programming

Software developers can no longer rely on increasing clock speeds alone to speed up single-threaded applications... developers must learn how to properly design their applications to run in a threaded environment. - Multi-Core Programming: Increasing Performance through Software Multi-threading. Shameem Akhter and Jason Roberts

If like me, you're programming on a twenty-year-old single-threaded performance-critical legacy code base, this book is for you. It assumes only a programming competence, begins with the motivation for multi-threading, the context and history of the hard and the soft, then methodically works through from the high level concepts of concurrency and parellism down to the primitive building blocks and machine implementation.

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August 17, 2006

Programming the Universe

Can you say neu-trin-o, Eamon?

Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes On the Cosmos reads aloud surprisingly well. At least Eamon and I thought so, though perhaps the other vacationers didn't appreciate it as much. I do my part to provide propoganda for baby nerds.

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