Beautiful Minds, Strange Lives, and Large Hearts

I’ve admired the mathematician Paul Erdös for a long time: for his legendary eccentricity, heroic output, and his groundbreaking work on random graphs. Yet I only recently got around to reading his biography, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.The most astounding aspect of the story to me was not his odd genious and single-minded—almost manic—pursuit of mathematical truth, but his unfailing generosity. A great man with an open brain and an open heart!

Other mathematical biographies I’ve enjoyed include A Beautiful Mind,the (un-Hollywood-ized) story of John Nash, and Andrew Hodges’ Alan Turing: The Enigma.Although probably a bit dated, E.T. Bell’s Men of Mathematicsis still on my to-read list (it’s a very long list!)

I owe my interest in the lives and personalities of mathematicians to one of my old math professors, a bit of a character himself, who interspersed nearly impenetrable lectures on complex analysis with stories of the quirks and foibles of mathematical greats like Riemann and Banach. By the standards of Waterloo math profs at the time, he, too, was remarkably generous.

Darth Vader and the Neocons

The Washington neocons go searching for their souls and discover them in Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine…

“To paraphrase neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol, an evil Sith lord is a noble Jedi knight mugged by reality.”

And as long as you’ve no qualms about brutality…

“Palpatine is a dictator–but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It’s a dictatorship people can do business with.”

The shroud of the dark side has fallen, indeed.

I Can’t Believe I Watched the Budget Vote

Watching a live Parliamentary vote on a budget bill is hardly my preferred form of entertainment, but last night was high political drama to the point I couldn’t tear myself away from the hypnotic calling out of MPs names as they stood to vote for or against the confidence motion against the government. How many Canadians held their breath when the moment came for the single independent MP still in play to stand or remain seated? Well, it’s history now: Chuck Cadman stood up, the government survived. And what started as a vote of no-confidence in the Liberal government has turned instead into a question of confidence in the hard-right leadership of the (formerly progressive) Conservative party.

Maybe it’s time for Stephen Harper to stop insisting that the duty of the loyal opposition is to replace the government, and get on with his real job of constructive debate and intelligent compromise. That’s what Canadians want from a minority parliament–not the desperate drama of a young party leader’s personal ambitions. As for his freshly-minted claims to provide a federalist alternative to the Bloc in Quebec–get a grip Mr. Harper. You’re not fooling anyone.

Network Applications of Bloom Filters

“A Bloom filter is a simple space-efficient randomized data-structure for representing a set in order to support membership queries.” The survey paper Network Applications of Bloom Filters is a great technical overview of what they are and what you might want to use them for. Examples include distributed caching, distributed hash tables (DHTs), resource routing, more efficient multicast, and traffic measurement. For a quickstart, see this helpful tutorial on using Bloom filters in place of lookup hashes in Perl. The author also describes how Bloom filters may be applied in social software systems to allow people to share information about their networks without revealing who their friends are to the world or to a central authority.

Content-Based (SOAP) Routing

Now this is interesting: a Content-Based Routing Service from Systinet. Finally a way to truly decouple service providers from service requestors (in a web services-friendly way). The idea of subscribing to SOAP documents by content as a method of service invocation has been kicking around for a while in the context of XML-document-based, Linda-like systems. I even prototyped one two years ago, though it was not specific to SOAP (I have no problem with SOAP, but I tend not to use it if a simpler solution will suffice so I needed a more general solution), and Mike Champion has been floating trial balloons about related concepts for some time.

Systinet’s CBR Service is still an alpha technology. There’s an informative article on it from the Web Services Journal: “Beyond Point to Point”. Will this approach (finally) catch on?

Cities In The Sea

image of sea cityWhen I was a kid there was a lot of hype about human habitats on and under the sea. The sea was touted as the next frontier (space having already been conquered, symbolically at least, by the Apollo missions.) Decades later– off-shore drilling platforms notwithstanding–the oceans are still mostly a mystery and cities in the sea are still just futurists’ dreams. One of those futurists, Jacque Fresco, dreams in 3D at The Venus Project. There are some cool ideas and images related to future visions of construction and transportation systems, as well.

As for me, I gave up wanting to live under the sea after seeing Jaws.

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