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An Outsider’s Perspective From The Inside

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Martin Gardner, R.I.P.

Posted by anandrr on May 23, 2010

When we were little, perhaps 9 or 10, our dad would bring home old issues of Scientific American from the large library at his work. I believe the driving reason for this was the Mathematical Games column in each issue. I eagerly devoured each of them, and when Dad took back the issue waited eagerly for him to come home that evening with the next issue. That column opened up a whole new world of maths and thinking. It also led to a lifelong love with maths, numbers and a lifelong preference for logical and analytical deduction. I don’t remember enough of his writing, and perhaps I will now go and rediscover it, but they clearly made a much bigger impact on me than the other books that we had at home or the similarly themed columns in Science Today, the other magazine we got at home.

Mathematical Games had other indirect impacts on me. Sometimes he had guest columnists, two of them have remained with me through the years: Raymond Smullyan and Douglas Hofstadter. Raymond Smullyan’s columns led me later to read his books starting with What is the Name of this Book, where he used mathematical and logical puzzles as a starting point to talking about and proving Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. For a young teenager, this was heady stuff. Douglas Hofstadter renamed the column Metamagical Themas, and used them as a starting point to explore the themes of recursion, logic and eventually Artificial Intelligence. Between the three of them they were part of the life experiences that trained me so I could get into the Maths Olympiad, and also prepared me for my eventual career in computers. Under slightly different circumstances I would have ended up entirely with a life in mathematics.

Martin Gardner died yesterday. Thanks Martin, and most of all, thanks Appa.


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New Yorker Moment of Zen

Posted by anandrr on June 3, 2009

How better to ensure that your quote gets published in the New Yorker than, 6 months after the end of the Bush administration, to get a random dig in about him? Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the mass extinction of animals around us and is talking to Al Hicks about what was happening to bats in the northeast US:

… dead bats everywhere … animals looked as if they had been dunked … in talcum powder … [sent] the photographs to … bat specialists … [n]one of them could explain it…

So far so good. But then Al Hicks gets into gear, almost immediately:

“We were thinking, Oh boy we hope this just goes away,” he told me, “It was like the Bush administration. And, like the Bush administration, it just wouldn’t go away”

What the hell? I hated the Bush administration as much as the next guy, but isn’t it a little late to be getting in gratuitous digs? But all that aside, I do highly recommend the article itself, like every Kolbert article in recent memory, she does a wonderful job of writing about the very real impact that humans have, inadvertently or otherwise, on the ecology around us. Unfortunately online access to the article for subscribers only, the rest of you have to buy the paper version or ask a friend for a photocopy.

Of course, if, like some people I know, you hate the New Yorker length essays and would rather read the Economist’s shorter edition just wait another 50 years or so at which point all the extinction will raise them out of their conservative slumber and write a quick page and a half wringing their hands about the situation and decrying the absence of free market rhetoric in the proposed solutions. Mission Accomplished!

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By The Government, Of The Government…

Posted by anandrr on July 18, 2008

What is it with folks working for the government and their inability to come up with a good tagline? Check out this full page ad taken out by Karnataka Silks in The Hindu. The tagline reads, “We Compromise, But Not On Quality.” Indeed!

It gets worse, the customer testimonials along the sidebar, are a little less than effusive in their praise. Were these really the best testimonials they could get out of all the customer comments sent to them over the years?

We are reminded of the India Census Department website a few years ago. They proudly proclaimed, “We Also Count People.” A direct rip off of the famous Tata Steel ads of course. But really, what else does the census department do? (Here’s the old census page from the Internet Archive)

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