Fixing Up My Virtual Garage

In my last post, I told the story of reviving a moribund computer program from 15+ years ago.

In the process, I revisited my stash of moribund computer programs, including a little web page with links to some of them. It was dusty and pathetic and pretty much nothing worked. So I rolled up my sleeves and prettied it up, and if you want to look any of it, you can find it here.

The Archeology of Computer Programming

TL;DR You can skip any time to the 20-second movie at the bottom of the post. Spoiler alert: the video will eventually reveal the solution to the puzzle.

Happy New Year! I just returned from a quick family trip to Seattle, and you would think that this post would be about my visit to the Living Computer Museum with my cousin Eric, and programming adventures now 50+ years ago in the RESISTORS. But it’s not, as worthy as those topics are.

Actually it all started when I read a post by Ben Orlin on his Math With Bad Drawings site about Evelyn Lamb‘s Page-a-Day Math Calendar, recently published by the AMS. One thing led to another, and my son Ben was kind enough to give me a copy for Christmas.

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Ultra-Brief Workouts: The Agony and The Satisfaction

To say I have a love-hate relationship with exercise would be too strong. But I’ve never truly enjoyed it, and for the relatively small fraction of my life when I’ve done it regularly, it has been at best a chore.

One of those times was in medical school. For a quarter or two, I went to the pool regularly. After a vacation, I returned to the pool and ran into my friend Brad. When I asked how his vacation was, he said, “Great!” and proceeded to tell me about biking a century or maybe two, hiking, running. I realized that there two kinds of people in the world: the ones who exercise more when they’re on vacation, and the ones who exercise less. Both kinds were represented in that conversation, and you can see which I was.

I seem to have an abiding interest in getting something for, well, if not nothing, then “as little as possible” (hence: short-term therapy, no-knead bread, and no doubt a number of other hyphen-bearing shortcuts). So when I started to hear about 20-minute workouts using high-intensity interval training, I got interested. [Spoiler alert: 20 minutes is way too long.]

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The Cubic Formula and Galois Theory

I read a couple of books fairly recently that discuss the cubic equation: Barry Mazur’s Imagining Numbers: (particularly the square root of minus fifteen) and William Dunham’s Journey through Genius. They got me interested in this formula, which had always been an afterthought (to the extent to which it had been a thought at all) in my mathematics education.

The cubic and quartic formulas were perhaps the greatest accomplishments of Renaissance mathematics, and they were a key spur to Evariste Galois’ beautiful study of the symmetry inherent in polynomial equations. Yet I got a PhD in mathematics without knowing much more than the bare fact that such formulas exist. It should certainly be possible to understand these formulas in light of Galois theory, but such explanations are not easy to find.

I wrote this paper to pass on what I learned about the cubic equation, and how it can be derived in the context of Galois theory.

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Errol Morris Resurfaces

Errol Morris, the noted documentary filmmaker, has recently published a book entitled, The Ashtray (Or the Man Who Denied Reality). It’s about my father, Thomas Kuhn, and the views on the history and philosophy of science that he initially set forth in his 1962 book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” As you might gather from the title, it is not a sympathetic account; the philosopher Philip Kitcher says, in his excellent review in the Los Angeles Review of Books, that “Morris disarmingly confesses [that] this book is a vendetta.”

Since the book’s publication, Morris has been appearing here and there on the radio, and friends have been asking me about my take on the book. Rather than saying the same thing over and over, I have decided to put my thoughts together in one place. I haven’t read Morris’s book, for reasons that will become clearer to those who read further, but I was a careful reader of his five-part 2011 series on the New York Times Opinionator website, which the book is based on. I find Morris’s reading of my father’s work a vast oversimplification, to the point where the straw man is easy to knock down. Many people have taken that approach over the years, but Morris has a higher profile than most. There are many people more qualified to deal with his criticisms on whatever merits they may have, and I will mostly leave it to them.  What impelled me to write this is my belief that the episode from which the book draws its title, in which my father supposedly threw an ashtray at Morris, never actually happened.

Is it important whether it happened or not? Everyone will have to come to their own conclusion on that. To be very clear up front: I would love to be wrong about this. I would love to hear from Morris’s classmates, family, or anyone else, that he told them that my father threw an ashtray at him at or close to the time that it allegedly happened. Because as misguided as I think his attacks on my father are intellectually, I believe that they come from a place of wanting to defend truthfulness. Defending truthfulness was important in 2011, and it is painfully obvious that it is more important than ever in 2018. I have great respect for Morris’s film work, and I think I share much of his political orientation. But just as the Buddha says hatred does not cease through hatred, falsehood does not cease through falsehood, and I believe that some of our current ills as a society stem from our delight in calling out falsehood among our opponents while ignoring it or even condoning it on “our team” and, more important, in ourselves. Continue reading “Errol Morris Resurfaces”

Links to writing on “Black Panther”

I’m not a big fan of superhero movies, and I generally find any efforts to appear “thought-provoking” are pretty tinny.

But  I would say that Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is actually thought-provoking. Coogler and his cast and crew have accomplished so many things in this movie that it’s hard to know where to start. But one thing they’ve done is to evoke some basic moral/philosophical dilemmas and conversations in a way that doesn’t seem completely, uh, comic-book. Continue reading “Links to writing on “Black Panther””

Guide to My Bread Posts

A number of people have expressed interest recently in my experience making bread. I’m happy to talk about it, but I also refer them to my posts here. There are enough of those posts now that I wind up rewriting the same little email about how to get started. Rather than writing the same email over and over, here is a slightly more polished version. [Added 30 July 2018: I have often said that baking bread is what has helped me survive the current political scene; here is a fleshed-out version of that thought, suggesting that it can also help you survive the on-line world that we are consumed by.] Continue reading “Guide to My Bread Posts”

Make awesome waffles (or pancakes) with that extra sourdough starter

We love this waffle recipe. A visitor from Germany said these waffles were the best she’d ever had, and I think of Europeans as knowing their waffles. Don’t tell people how healthy they are, just serve them and tell them later (or not). This is adapted (i.e. mostly copied) from this recipe, but it is doubled and it generally serves 4. When I make one-and-a-half of this recipe (triple the original), it makes exactly 10 waffles on my 8″ Belgian waffle maker. I haven’t tried making pancakes with it, but it’s supposed to work. Continue reading “Make awesome waffles (or pancakes) with that extra sourdough starter”