Mathematicians vs. Engineers

August 18, 2011

I learned about probabilistic algorithms yesterday in Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. Probabilistic algorithms do not yield the correct answer with 100% certainty, but are designed so that the chance of an incorrect answer is infinitesimal. For example, the Fermat Test for primality yields a nice logarithmic-time (very quick) algorithm which yields the incorrect answer extremely rarely. I came across a nice bit of witticism from the author:

Numbers that fool the Fermat test are called Carmichael numbers, and very little is known about them other than that they are extremely rare…in testing primality of very large numbers chosen at random,the chance of stumbling upon a value that fools the Fermat test is less than the chance that cosmic radiation will cause the computer to make an error in carrying out a “correct” algorithm. Considering an algorithm to be inadequate for the first reason but not for the second illustrates the difference between mathematics and engineering.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, 53 n. (emphasis mine)

So…if I’m a computer scientist does that make me an engineer or mathematician? The author seems to have made his own decision.

Of course, Sheldon Cooper has his own, opposing opinion:

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A beginner’s guide to selling out your blog content for even more views

August 6, 2011

It starts out with an ideal. A burning desire in your heart that guides your pen to paper (or rather, fingers to the home row) and gets you typing away, gets you fleshing out those unique thoughts and reflections that make you and you alone the most unique, creative, and original writer in the blogosphere.

You toil, Howard Roark-like, night after night, by the dim blaze of candlelight, churning out one masterpiece after another. Convinced of your brilliance, you agonize over your opening sentences. You search for the most relevant, interesting, and up-to-date internal links, videos, and images to pepper your articles with. You even double-check your article for typos.

Of course, unlike Howard Roark, you do seek validation of a form other than creativity – getting lots and lots of views. Deny it as much as you might, your mood is inextricably tied to the lofty crests and the depressing troughs of that views-per-day graph. And those troughs are depressing. As you cry yourself to sleep, devoid of the attention of others, you start to doubt your once-obvious superiority to “the others.” Just as a witty Facebook status that doesn’t get any likes is not witty, your blog clearly just isn’t what you thought it was. People don’t care about you. You’re alone.  Go away.

Slowly, even those close friends and family you eagerly advertised your site to lose interest in what you have to say. Even though your frantic sobs are broken by the occasional obscurely specific Google search links to your blog, the hits to your site now mostly consist of spam bots from sham accounting sites in Bangalore.

But let me tell you, dear reader, there is light at the end of the tunnel! What do you think all those physics prodigies who set out to discover cold fusion and unravel the secrets of the universe do after 10 years of unsuccessful research on obviously impossible problems? They sell out, damnit! They go to Wall Street, do some opaque number-crunching, and wade in gigantic piles of cash!

Maybe you’re iffy about posting it on your Facebook because you’re shy but still want something for nothing. Maybe StumbleUpon readers aren’t giving you enough thumbs-ups. So how do you take it to that next level?

Here’s how:

1)   Write about making money – nobody cares about how little money you’ve made. People will eat that shit up because let me tell you a secret: People love money. You wouldn’t believe it but it’s true. My friend wrote about value investing and totally got like, 40 views in a day after two days of having the blog. I had to sell out for a week not writing about money in order to achieve that sort of readership.

2)   Tag your posts under “politics” – for some reason (myself included), we just can’t get enough of politics. It’s one of those weird topics where people will want to read the same thing over and over again, written by a different person. Of course, you have to choose Democratic or Republican. You have to support a mainstream side, otherwise you’ll be dismissed as “(left/right)-wing nut-job, even despite the fact that your fringe view is right and everyone else’s is wrong. The world is a cruel place.

3)   Humor – convey your blog as humor. It’s the end of the day. At the end of the day, nobody wants to read about a weighty comparison of Crime and Punishment and the today’s laws on the death penalty. Just let ‘em have some lolcatz or something.

4)   Tag it under “writing” – everything’s writing, so it totally counts.

5)   Seek out fairly popular blogs where links to that site are automatically conveyed on it. That way, no matter how obscure your blog is, procrastinating readers will still be linked to it! Screw Google’s popularity-based algorithms!

6)   If you’re blogging with WordPress, you can find the most popular tags and just use all of them! This post will probably be tagged with “Art”, “Local”, “2011”, and “Islam.” And if someone who wants to read about Picasso, the Farmer’s Market, or the Syrian uprisings sees this instead, so be it. For I am the mysterious “you” in this article, and I’m really desperate for attention.


Proposed Subtitles

August 5, 2011

Any reader will probably take immediate note of the lack of any kind of witty or humorous subtitle adorning “Boundless Rationality” on the front page. This is not out of laziness, but rather indecision. Here is a short list of subtitles that have been considered, at one point or another:

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Making fun of IKEA

July 3, 2011

Don’t get me wrong here, I love IKEA. My family’s from Finland so it’s always nice to bring a little bit of Nordic culture wherever we live, which tends to be far away from Northern Europe. At the same time, I never pass up a chance to make fun of the company’s idiosyncratic and occasionally bizarre culture, and by extension, the country of Sweden itself.

Fortunately for me, CollegeHumor did a couple of hilarious fake IKEA instruction manuals. These are amazing:

Sci-Fi Ikea Manuals

If Ikea made instructions for everything

Even the Daily Show recently joined in on the fun:

Swede Dreams

Thank you, Jason Jones.


A Startling Victory for Dualism (June 28th, 2026)

June 28, 2011

Cambridge, Massachusetts – Researchers cooperating from major research universities and institutions from the United States and the rest of the world have stunned the world with an early release of the findings of Project Sapiens, a half-trillion dollar international undertaking to provide a full, multi-level understanding of the human brain and its cognitive processes – a detailed account of how simple low-level neuronal processes give rise to higher-level cognition, finally answering questions that have dogged scientists for decades.

“Everything’s in there,” Dr. Kirk Meier, MIT Professor of Neuroscience and ones of the leaders of the project, announced triumphantly. “Everything that’s been a mystery to us – free will, creativity, even ESP. We can now finally claim a full understanding of our brains. The work of neuroscience is essentially done.”

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Got 5 minutes? Some gems from “The Daily Show”

May 24, 2011

It’s getting pretty tiring to hear all those critics of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. No matter how correct it is, it’s usually self-defeating because their targets tend to reject rational argument.

Fortunately for the rest of us, there’s these guys:

Jason Jones visits “The Real America”:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-october-20-2008/understanding-real-america-in-wasilla

John Oliver reports on a Tea Party rally:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-april-16-2009/tea-party-tyranny