Category Archives: Computing and Mathematics

Crooked CA watch: 5

Charles Wang has cashed out.

In 2004, after a four-year investigation that focused on backdated contracts and whether they artificially inflated profits, [Wang’s] Computer Associates reached an agreement with the Justice Department to avoid prosecution, which included paying $225 million in restitution to shareholders.

In 2006, [CEO Sanjay] Kumar was sentenced to 12 years in prison for orchestrating a $2.2 billion accounting fraud, mainly in 1999 and 2000. Mr. Wang was never charged with wrongdoing in the case.

But a year later, a 390-page report by the Computer Associates board, assisted by an outside law firm, found Mr. Wang culpable as well. “No significant decisions were made without his participation and approval,” the report said.

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DeLillo decoded

If ever there was a book that needed an explanatory wiki, it’s Ratner’s Star (1976):

He was watching her bend the edges of a paper plate someone had left on the table. Again and again she folded the plate so that a different point on the circumference of the circle touched the same ketchup speck every time, a small stain located well off-center. She kept studying the resulting creases. (p. 53)

The creases form an ellipse, as Dr. Math explains.

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Still ticking

I wrote up some notes on A Portable Cosmos, by Alexander Jones, a summary of what 120 years of studying the Antikythera Mechanism (one of my obsessions) have revealed to us.

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Busted²

Filip Bondy’s piece about using video to apply an equalizing scale to home runs, irrespective of peculiar ballpark topography, warrants a dubious achievement award for a lede that promises something the story doesn’t deliver:

Spoiler alert: If you wish to continue enjoying gargantuan home runs in the future with unspoiled pleasure, free of all polynomial equations, read no further. If you persist, however, then there is much math to consider.

Continue on, dear reader, but you will find nary an exponent—indeed, not even any arithmetic.

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Some links: 64

Clearing the bookmarks for things that I had intended to post more fully about:

  • William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta report on trophic effects due to reintroduction of Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) into Yellowstone National Park. Some herbivore species are down, but aspens, cottonwoods, and willows are up. And, perhaps surprisingly, species that depend on woody plants like beavers are up, too.
  • The key to Broadway success might be in assembling a creative team with a mix of old hands and newcomers, suggests research by Guimerà et al. and summarized by Matt Golosinski for Northwestern’s KelloggInsight. The optimal number of team members has remained constant at seven since about 1930.
  • Vi Hart’s “Doodling in Math Class” videos (independent, pre-Khan Academy) are smart and delightful. Perhaps the centerpiece is her three-part demystification of the Fibonacci sequence.

    I am as far as possible from the only two other leaves in the universe!

  • Related: Alexander Mitsos and Corey Noone report that the optimal arrangement of mirrors in a solar energy collector follows the pattern of a Fermat spiral.
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Erm, not really

Andrew Hacker and his fact checker commit a howler in an op-ed piece in which he argues that it’s not necessary to teach algebra to high schoolers:

Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)

Pierre de Fermat had a primality test, a little theorem, a principle, and a last theorem (eventually, voluminously proved), but whether he had any dilemmas is a question best asked of his spiritual advisor.

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Supercaliflawjalisticexpialadoshus

Ben Zimmer antedates the Disney team’s most famous nonsense word, precious to user interface designers and testers worldwide, made canonical by Henry Spencer’s decalogue. With the primary accent on the “flaw,” the word appears in a 1931 humor column for a Syracuse University student newspaper under the byline of Helen Herman.

Languagehat

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The not-so-lost chord

Eliot Van Buskirk sketches the analysis that went into decoding the opening guitar chord of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” He links to an audio clip as well as the detailed paper by Jason I. Brown of Dalhousie University, “Mathematics, Physics, and A Hard Day’s Night.” Seems that the boys had a little help from George Martin on piano.

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Short bits of string: 7

After much virtual knuckle-scraping, I have managed to mount the folders from a networked hard drive running Samba from my Windows XP laptop.

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Green ears

still in the box The FedEx guy left a box at my door yesterday. A Saturday delivery? Yes, indeedy: the XO laptop that I received in exchange for my donation to the One Laptop Per Child project.

ready to be chargedThe machine is just adorable. If Elle Woods had designed a computer to go with her chihuahua, she would have come up with this (perhaps in pink).

browsing With the help of the getting started guide, I was connected to my wireless network in two shakes, and I was browsing in half a shake more. The web browser is pretty basic, as far as I can tell so far. Bookmarking doesn’t quite work the way we’ve come to expect after 15 years. A positive side effect is that it effectively comes with its own Flashblock. Oops, looks like the New York Times web site just crashed the browser.

The chiclet-y keyboard is is easier than any phone I’ve ever used. My lack of touch-typing skills will serve me well. There’s a little heat dissipated from the back of the screen.

Lots more to play with here, including figuring out what some of the keys do (like the mysterious Hand keys between the Control and Alt analogues). Maybe the games on the XO will entice Leta away from playing FreeCell on my Windows machine.

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Becoming reality

Brian Hayes’ XO laptop has arrived.

If the styling has a whiff of Fisher-Price about it, there’s also some thoughtful ingenuity at work here, and designers of machines for grownups might learn something from it.

* * *

The wifi transceiver is amazing. I never knew I had so many well-connected neighbors—people named linksys and netgear, for example. No other computer I’ve had in the house has ever detected any of these networks.

* * *

…the software is just not finished yet. Some basic capabilities (printing, a sleep mode) are not yet implemented, and there are various buttons that don’t yet have functions. The web browser is primitive (no tabs, very limited facilities for bookmarks). There’s an RSS reader that doesn’t seem to work.

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The Green 500

Wu-Chun Feng and Kirk W. Cameron of Virginia Tech have initiated a new system of league tables for supercomputers based on energy efficiency, The Green500 List. They introduce the rankings in an article in the December, 2007 issue of Computer. The article abstract:

The performance-at-any-cost design mentality ignores supercomputers’ excessive power consumption and need for heat dissipation and will ultimately limit their performance. Without fundamental change in the design of supercomputing systems, the performance advances common over the past two decades won’t continue.

As the methodology is still new, and requires some apples-to-oranges comparisons, it’s not surprising that the listings are dominated by one vendor’s architecture. IBM’s Blue Gene takes the top 26 spots in the table, with energy consumption of 204 to 357 megaFLOPS per watt. Slot #500 comes in 2 orders of magnitude lower, at 3.65 megaFLOPS per watt.

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That which we call a rose

bit-player laments the confusing system of names used to identify complexity classes.

The letter P generally stands for “polynomial” (except where it’s “probabilistic”). N usually denotes “nondeterministic” (but NC is “Nick’s Class”). Likewise the prefix D is for “deterministic” (except that it’s usually omitted, and sometimes it means “difference” or “dynamical” instead). B stands for “bounded-error” (except that BH is “Boolean hierarchy” and “BPd(P)” is “Polynomial Size d-Times-Only Branching Program”). Q is for “quantum” (except “QH” is the “query hierarchy” and “QP” is “quasi-polynomial time”).

The sad truth is, the naming conventions for furniture at Ikea make for a more consistent language than those of complexity theory.

Hmm. Maybe the math and CS guys should talk to the bioinformaticians that gave us Pokemon as the name of an oncogene, until (under threat of legal action) it was renamed Zbtb7.

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Lime green

David Pogue reviews a beta version of the XO, the controversial “$100 laptop” device from One Laptop Per Child. As has been reported elsewhere, to help drive down unit costs, a donate-one-get-one program will be in place for a limited time. I’m thinking a solid-state Linux box with web browser would be a cute thing to have around the house. And the tax deduction wouldn’t hurt.

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Crooked CA watch: 4

Disgraced former CEO Sanjay Kumar reported to a minimum-security federal prison to begin serving his 12-year sentence.

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