Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A week of no blogging

I started this blog becuase of the inspiration I found from Kathy's Creating Passionate Users Blog, and If find what has happened to her most disturbing.

I am joining with Scoble to be silent for this week to emphasize that this behavior is wrong.

“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”

– John Wayne, actor

I might not have blogged much before but this changes things.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Math team solves the unsolvable E8 | Tech News on ZDNet

Math team solves the unsolvable E8 | Tech News on ZDNet: "Project leaders said that the work is important for several reasons. First, it brought together 18 math professors who typically work alone, in a landmark project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Second, that large-scale computing factored heavily into solving the equation means that other difficult and long-standing math problems could be understood this way. And the work might lead to new discoveries in mathematics and physics. "

This is Big Math writ large. There are lots of big hard problems that are only big and hard because they require so much calculation that it would takes hundreds of people thousands of years to work though. With Moore's Law holding up as well as it it, we'll be solving more of these types of problems.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pi Day

Today is Pi day. That most useful mathematical constant which relates the diameter of a circle to its circumference.

The ancient Greeks knew about it. They did have a slight problem, their number system didn't help them think in terms of non whole numbers. It wasn't as primitive as the Roman system which was little more then tally marks.

But they did understand ratios so they could approach it pretty well.

They attacked the problem in a great way. They would draw a circle and then draw a square inside. Finding the circumference of a square is easy, but it really isn't very close to the circumference of a circle. They knew that too, so they kept drawing polygons with more and more sides, like hexagons (6 sides) and octagons (8 sides) and so on.

Not only did they work from the inside but also the outside surrounding the circle with polygons with more and more sides. They were using the Limit Theorem which wasn't quantified until Newton and Leibnitz.

So after all that work they knew that pi was a little more then 3. We know it is 3.14159... which would have driven them crazy as its a irrational number, they liked the purity of whole numbers and even coined the term irrational number to ridicule the idea that numbers could be anything else.

Not that it stopped them from using it. They wanted to know how big the earth was. They understood that it was round. So they devised an experiment. Using two deep wells a known distance apart, they were able to calculate the circumference of the Earth with an error of something like a couple of hundred miles, which is amazing. Sure now we can measure it to less then centimeters but they didn't have near our technology.

Now it wouldn't be Pi day without a Pie recipe.

I really like Alton Brown's Pie dough
But our filling is a little different:
About four apples, Cameo or Granny Smith, sliced thin
3-4 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 Tbsp cinnamon powder
In the pie shell layer the apples with some dabs of butter, and a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Learning Languages

There are several languages that we use everyday, many of which we are not really formally taught in that I want my children to learn. These are tools to all them to express themselves better:

• English
• Second Human Language
• Mathematics
• Music
• Art
• Body
• Computer Language

I am going with English as a first language, but you can go with whatever your native tongue is. And I want her to also learn another language. I learned a lot more about English in my German classes then I did in my English grammar classes. I don't really care if its Latin, Spanish or Mandarin, learning a second language is a bit for work that provides great insight into your native tongue.

Mathematics is the language of money, business and science. It doesn't get much more important then that. Lots of people seem to be proud of not getting math. I think that is sad. It is much too useful not to master.

Music enhances emotional experiences. It is also pervasive, go into any store and music will be playing. Music is a wonderful way to express yourself. So learning a instrument and how to read music is a great gift.

I am classifying Art as virtually everything outside of music just because music has a vastly different notation, but whether you are using watercolors, marble or photography as a medium you still learn the vocabulary of dimension, color, perspective and balance.

You body is expressive as well. I use body instead of sports as sports is often linked to a game like baseball. It could just as well be dance or rock climbing. Knowing how to use your body is a good thing. Learning to control and maintain your body is a big deal it needs to last and knowing how to take good care of it is important.

Computers are everywhere, they are an integral part of our lives now and for the foreseeable future they will only become more pervasive. Learning to program a computer may just be as vital a skill as driving a car. At least a good understanding of it can only be helpful.

Finally, each of these languages provides a mindset, a way at looking at problems and how to solve them. I found a lot of my learning in school locked these into different compartments in my mind. Breaking down the walls between them has been very valuable to me and I am sure to my children.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Areas of Our Expertise

I was reading the Dilbert blog and hit his Smarter Than a 5th Grader post and I realized something important in what the people were commenting on.

There are groups of skills and knowledge to learn.

At the very center are the Core Life Skills:
Computer use
First Aid

These are the survival skills of the 21st Century. These are the things you need to know if you want to at least survive in the urban jungle.

Then you have the General Knowledge Skills:
Public Speaking
Social skills
Critical thinking

These are the skills and knowledge you need to be prosperous. They are also foundational to the next level.

Finally the Specialized Knowledge Skills:
There isn't really one list for this as it includes anything required to become good at something, like medicine, engineering, entrepreneurship, art, or whatever the passion your children have to be the best they can be have. We need to take the time to introduce our children to a multitude of different professions and crafts to help them find what there is inside themselves to greatness.

But this isn't very well rounded, either. There is also the need for balance in other areas: Literature, mathematics, music, arts, business and sports. The heart, mind and spirit all need nourishment and exercise.

None of these lists are complete and I would love to hear what you think are important things to know.

Why it's important to show your work.

Transcript: Verizon Doesn't Know How To Count - Consumerist

This would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

I see the problem as one of dimensional analysis, something I didn't really get until I started taking science classes.

0.002 cent/kb is vastly different from $0.002/kb. It may have been better to have them do the conversion to dollars first as then they might have understood that 0.002 cents is $0.00002 and that is a big difference that they can see.

But trying to think of something like this on the phone while talking to someone who is not getting it is hard to pull off. This would have been easy to solve in person as they would have been both looking at the same piece of paper and the same work.

This actually shows why it is important to show your work. I was taught to do the dimensions first and then the arithmetic to make sure the conversions wouldn't get factored in invisibly, which is what was happening here.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Towers in Peru called solar observatory - Los Angeles Times

Towers in Peru called solar observatory - Los Angeles Times: "'Unlike all the other sites, however, [Chankillo] contains alignments that cover the entire solar year,' said coauthor Ivan Ghezzi, who was a graduate student at Yale University when he did the work but is now archeological director of the National Culture Institute in Lima.

In effect, it is the oldest 'full-service observatory' in the Western Hemisphere."

Seriously cool and it took a lot of careful observation and mathematics to design and build something like this. It's one of those things you could actually do in you backyard on a small scale.