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Interesting reset concepts

Rolling Jubilee is about to kick off, billing itself as “a bailout of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Other comments I’ve seen on this:

I like the idea, in some ways especially the “random acts of kindness” aspect of it. One imagines there’s no way they could actually eliminate any significant fraction of American personal debt, so in some sense randomly is the ‘fairest’ way to try to help anyone. Although they will get some prety impressive ‘bang for the buck’ (in a more literal than usual sense).

This also led my husband and I to look a bit into the actual Bilblical concept of the Jubilee — which turns out to have probably made sense in ancient Near Eastern cultures for reasons including provisioning the armies. See Michael Hudson‘s article in Bible Review 15:01 (1999) “The Economic Roots of the Jubilee.”

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Tolkien academia for a popular audience

This Washington Post article discusses the story of a Tolkien scholar whose strategy of producing podcasts about Tolkien’s novels for public consumption seems to have won him some success in academia, not to mention a large online following.

The hub of his online activities is a website called The Tolkien Professor, which includes the aforementioned podcast lectures, links to both primary sources and criticism, and information about skype-in office hours.

Aside from the content of his work, Corey Olsen’s career trajectory strikes me as interesting in several respects. It reflects a more-or-less successful bid to make a career of studying genre literature in the academy. It reflects what I view as a commendable effort to reach out of the academy and engage a popular audience with academic research–I would love to see this happen more often, and to be rewarded rather than (at best) tolerated. Finally, of course, it raises the question of college classes being made available free and online–a trend which is extremely exciting, but which is not uncomplicated by questions about the future of academic institutions in a world where higher education costs are skyrocketing. Are universities going to go the way of the newspaper? How should we feel about that if they do?

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Calling all female mad scientists

A friend recently asked on her blog what fictional characters we (her readers) relate to. Two that immediately came to mind for me were Helen Narbonic (from Narbonic) and Agatha Clay (from Girl Genius). Both are female mad scientists from webcomics, which got me wondering what other female mad scientists I might be missing out on. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s List of mad scientists confirms how male-dominated this field is. Though I admittedly only skimmed it, I didn’t see any female mad scientists on the list whose names I recognized other than the above two. Nor have I been able to come up with others off the top of my head (though maybe that’s just due to poor memory/lack of imagination). So, readers, help me out. What other female mad scientists are out there?

(By the way, if you haven’t read them, I highly recommend both Narbonic and Girl Genius. Narbonic is rather slow getting started, but the story and the art both improve tremendously.)

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Mathematical non-games

The world of Algebraic Geometry (to which I have personal but absolutely no professional ties) is kind of tempest-tossed at the moment. I wouldn’t be suprised but what a number of you would enjoy thinking about and commenting on what’s going on.

In brief, lay terms, as I have heard it, there was this brilliant young French mathematician in the 1950s by the name of Alexandre Grothendieck who all but single-handedly revolutionized/created certain fields of Algebraic Geometry. Some 10-15 years later, he gave up academic life, moved to the Pyrrenées, and became a sheep farmer.

Since Grothendieck’s disengagement, his body of work has remained wildly useful and has formed a bedrock for later mathematical generations. The respect accorded to his own writings has gone so far as to inspire its own personal Distributed Proofreaders analogue for creating a TeX version of a long systematic work, “Séminaire de Géométrie Algébrique” (or SGA). The free electronic SGA project has been ongoing for the better part of a decade or more; volumes SGA 1 and SGA 2 are up on the arXiv already.

It seems just possible that might not be true much longer.

Behold the text of the until-recently-current webpage for the SGA 4 project:

Alexandre Grothendieck a malheureusement souhaité que cessent les travaux de réédition de SGA. Les pages qui étaient consacrées sont donc closes.
Dernière actualisation : 2 février 2010.

There is slightly more information, and much discussion, at Scott Morrison’s post on the Secret Blogging Seminar, a group math weblog. Again in brief (and English), Grothendieck apparently resurfaced enough to put out a letter stating that he doesn’t want his work republished or translated.

And he wags his finger at anyone who has done so or wants to.

Which is the really weird part. Assuming the letter is genuine, what legal ramifications does it actually have? Why use a phrase like “unlawful in my eyes,” which sounds to me deliberately obfuscatory? (Legality is not a matter of an individual’s vision.) The comments on the SBSeminar post seem weighted towards arguments as to the moral dimensions of Grothendieck’s stated wishes and a given mathematician’s obligation to respect them (or not). To me, the legal questions are more pressing and pertinent. Whether one has a moral obligation to respect an author’s wishes is a decision one makes for oneself. Whether the mathematical community as a whole has a legal obligation to take Grothendieck at his word has greater ramifications–and probably a single, findable answer (unlike a question of personal morality).

Edixhoven, one of the prior leaders of the TeX SGA project, did research the distribution question through the publishers and was told copyright had in fact reverted to the original authors (as he states on the linked page). This seems to indicate Grothendieck is not out of line to say he withholds his permission. But the questions only start there. …

Some on the SBSeminar comment thread made the “glass half full” suggestion that maybe it’s time SGA got a revamp anyhow. Yet the original is still a precious resource. I’ll be interested to try to follow what decisions are made.

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Another mashup, of a sort

I think it would have been even better if they had used music from LotR, but I still got a good chuckle out of this:

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Guest Post from Matt

Today we have a guest post from Matt G. (’07). Matt brings us a list of mashups that are “genuinely clever, cool or generally mind-warping”.


For those unfamiliar: a mashup is when you take the vocals from one song, sans instrumentation, and put them on top of the instrumentation, sans vocals, of a totally different song. A really good mashup is basically a musical joke, and an astoundingly good mashup can even be better than both its original components.

Some of these are nifty enough that I wanted to share, especially since almost all mashups are available for free download. Check them out!

Clever Juxtapositions

“Monty Python’s Killer Queen”
Theme from Monty Python’s Flying Circus
vs.
Queen – “Killer Queen”

“If I Were a Free Fallin’ Boy”
Beyonce – “If I Were a Boy”
vs.
Tom Petty – “Free Fallin’”
I’d never heard the Beyonce song, either. It’s not important to “getting” or enjoying this mashup.

“Don’t Cha Want Me”
Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha”
vs.
Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”

“From the Heart of Glass”
Blondie – “Heart of Glass”
vs.
Philip Glass – “Glassworks” (combination of Opening and Closing)

Wow, That’s Really Cool / How the Hell Does That Work?

“Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up”
Rick Astley – “Never Gonna Give You Up”
vs.
Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
video available here

“Black Butterfly Busters”
Ram Jam – “Black Betty”
vs.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”
vs.
Ray Parker Jr. – “Ghostbusters”
The Pumpkins song is the “rat in a cage” one — you probably know it, if not its title.

“Mia Freaky Mamma (On a Leash)”
Korn – “Freak on a Leash”
vs.
Abba – “Mamma Mia”
This one, in particular, is hysterically funny.

Just Plain Awesome

“Hotel California Must Go On”
The Eagles – “Hotel California”
vs.
Queen – “The Show Must Go On”

“Toxic Starlight”
Britney Spears – “Toxic”
vs.
Supermen Lovers – “Starlight”
Give this one a try even — or even especially — if you can’t stand the Britney Spears original. The new background completely harmonically recontextualizes the song.

Pure, Jaw-Dropping Magnificence

“Fixicity”
System of a Down – “Toxicity”
vs.
Coldplay – “Fix You”
SoaD is a scream-into-the-microphone-while-playing-heavily-distorted-chords metal band. “Fix You” is one of Coldplay’s slower, more boring songs, and that’s saying something. The intersection between them is nothing short of epic, in all the senses of that word.

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This Is the Title of This Blog Post

This is the first sentence of this blog post. This is the second sentence. This is a link to the story that inspired this blog post. This is almost the title of this blog post, but not quite. This sentence acknowledges that this story has been circulating around HRSFA for a while. This sentences qualifies the previous sentence by suggesting that some HRSFANS still may not have read it. This sentence exhorts those who have not read it yet to do so now. This is the last sentence of this blog post.

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Web Site Story

Web Site Story is a parody video from CollegeHumor with some extremely clever lyrics. There’s not much more I can say except to encourage you to check it out!

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Ideas Worth Spreading

I expect that most of our readers are familiar with TEDTalks. The TED Conferences takes place annually and “bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).” Their talks are then published on their website, so that we mere mortals can experience them as well.

In the past I’ve mostly watched individual talks that others have pointed out to me, but today I took some time to explore the site and find things on my own. One of my discoveries was the “TED in 3 Minutes” series, which includes shorter talks. I particular liked “Arthur Benjamin’s formula for changing math education“. His idea, which I whole-heartedly agree with, is that high school math education should shift its focus away from calculus and onto statistics. Although calculus is integral (pun intended!) to higher math and sciences, most students will never need it. Probability theory, on the other hand, is immediately applicable to every student’s life. As we manage our finances or make medical decisions, it’s important for everyone to be able to intelligently assess risks and benefits.

To help spread all these ideas, the TEDTalks website has transcripts for all their videos. The transcripts allow the text of each talk to be searchable, and through the “interactive transcript” feature you can jump straight to the point in a video where given text appears. The “TED Open Translation Project” allows anyone to submit translations of these transcripts into other languages, to further spread these ideas beyond the English-speaking community.

With over 450 videos available, it’s difficult to know where to start watching TEDTalks. If you have a favorite talk or two, please let us know in the comments.

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Mandelbrot Set

Students from the Cornell Summer Animation Workshop have produced a fantastic and suitably quirky animation for Jonathan Coulton’s “Mandelbrot Set”:

You can find out more about Jonathan Coulton on his website. I actually don’t know much apart from his most popular songs, but perhaps someone will enlighten us (with further song recommendations, for example) in the comments or with a follow-up blog post?

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