Happenings – 2011 Dec 17

Let’s see. Last week’s happenings post seems a bit brusque to me. Perhaps I was just impatient to get it out there… perhaps it reflects that my dictating is more leisurely than my typing.

I haven’t said this in a while: I generally use “Dragon Dictate” to create text, rather than trying to type. Last week’s happenings post, however, was completely typed.

Or I might have been a little annoyed that I wasn’t able to talk about either Stokes’ theorem or the Axiom of Choice – and, at best, I will be lucky to write about Stokes theorem today. (It’s another piece of mathematics I think a geek should know.)

We’ll see how the draft develops.

For those of us even remotely interested in particle physics… it appears that the large hadron collider has seen something at 125 GeV. It could be the Higgs particle. Peter Woit’s blog, as usual, has something to say about it and provides a lot of links.

(I remember making a note that one of my particle physics books has a promising discussion of how the Higgs particle imparts mass to the other particles in The Standard Model. That is what it’s for. And “promising” only means I thought I might be able to follow the derivation.)

For those of us even remotely interested in being passengers on commercial airliners… someone has published the complete transcript of the black box recording of the crash of Air France flight 447. The Economist has a nice discussion. He’s catching a lot of flak… because a brutal summary of the crash would be: the autopilot turned itself off, and the pilots did not know how to fly the plane manually.

A less than brutal summary would add: the autopilot turned itself off because the instrument readings were too strange, so the pilots were faced with severe instrument failures, at night. I can certainly believe that “instrument flying” would be damned hard when the instrument readings are unreliable. Still, if the autopilot can turn itself off because things are bad, we should expect that a pilot might be handed the plane in conditions too bad for the autopilot.

My alter ego the kid has been looking at Lawvere and Schanuel’s “Conceptual Mathematics” – an iconoclastic undergraduate introduction to category theory, by one of the masters.

He’s also been looking at Ullrich’s “Complex Made Simple” – which might have given me the final clue I need for getting Mathematica to cope with fractional linear transformations. They are of the form

\frac{a z + b}{c z + d}\ , with ad – bc ≠ 0, and z a complex number

… and the challenge is to figure out the 4 coefficients for a transformation which moves a specified set of points in a specified way. I haven’t tried it in a while… it might’ve been 8 years ago or so… but it didn’t work very well then. Maybe I’m ready to try again.

I’ve been feeling frustrated about how little mathematics I get done… and then I realized that I have a substantial amount of material which my undergraduate alter ego has worked out: group theory, strength of materials, lie algebra, and now circuit theory. In other words, my publishing can’t keep up with even the undergraduate material I’m going through, and yet I am feeling that I should be getting through even more material.

One of the framed quotations on my wall comes from “Life’s Little Instruction Book” by Brown. (It’s in my bibliography.)

If you’re going after Moby Dick, take along the tartar sauce.

What it means is, plan on success. (Don’t quibble that Moby Dick wasn’t a fish, so tartar sauce might be the wrong condiment; that misses the point.)

I finally realized why I like that quotation. Oh, I liked it enough to frame it, but I didn’t know why it mattered so much to me.

I have no hope, of course, of understanding all of mathematics. Hell, I have no hope of understanding all of the math books I already own.

The good side of that is that I am free to study whatever math I want to, because I can never learn all of it.

The bad side of that is that I am apparently chasing Moby Dick… my pursuit of mathematics is a lost cause.

I exaggerate. The key, however, is that although I cannot learn all of it, I’m not willing to rule out any part of mathematics or its applications. Despite knowing that I will never understand all my technical books, I will continue buying more, and having a go at whatever strikes my fancy.

(So I know what Moby Dick represents. Now if I could only figure out what the tartar sauce is….)

If you don’t like the answer, change the question.

(from an episode of Numb3rs.)

My doing mathematics isn’t about the destination – it’s about the journey. I try to take pleasure on a daily basis.

My alter ego the kid has a lot of fun just looking at things… and my alter ego the undergraduate derives a lot of satisfaction from solving (admittedly elementary) problems… and I’m still working with regression, and putting out posts… and soon regression will be replaced by another topic.

Well, it’s after noon, and although my draft of this post included the generalized Stokes’s theorem – required for geeks – I’ll not try polishing or publishing it today.

Now let me try working on Monday’s post… more about fitting polynomials to data… or maybe I’ll track down that “easy” derivation of how the Higgs field gives mass to other particles….

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